Questions and Topics for Discussion
1) One of this novel''s strengths is the way it skillfully
demonstrates the subjectivity people bring to their interactions
with others. The motivations of individual characters, the emotions
that pull them one way or another, and the personal feelings that
they inject into professional situations becomes achingly clear as
we explore many different viewpoints. For example, despite Julia
and Campbell''s attempts to remain calm, unemotional and
businesslike when they deal with one another, the past keeps
seeping in, clouding their interaction. The same goes for the
interaction between Sara and Anna during the trial. Is there such a
thing as an objective decision in the world of this story? Is
anyone capable of being totally rational, or do emotions always
come into play?
2) What do you think of this story''s representation of the
justice system? What was your opinion of the final outcome of the
3) What is your opinion of Sara? With her life focused on saving
Kate, she sometimes neglects her other children. Jesse is rapidly
becoming a juvenile delinquent, and Anna is invisible -- a fact
that the little girl knows only too well. What does this say about
Sara''s role as a mother? What would you have done in her shoes?
Has she unwittingly forgotten Jesse and Anna, or do you think she
has consciously chosen to neglect them -- either as an attempt to
save a little energy for herself, or as some kind of punishment?
Does Sara resent her other children for being healthy? Did you find
yourself criticizing Sara, empathizing with her, or both?
4) During a conversation about Kate, Zanne tells Sara, "No one
has to be a martyr 24/7." When she mistakenly hears the word
"mother" not "martyr" and is corrected by Zanne, Sara smiles and
asks, "Is there a difference?" In what ways does this moment
provide insight into Sara''s state of mind? Do you think it strange
that she sees no difference between motherhood and martyrhood?
5) Campbell is certainly a fascinating character: guarded,
intelligent, caring and yet selfish at the same time. Due to these
seemingly contradictory traits, it can be difficult to figure him
out. As he himself admits, "motivations are not what they seem to
be." At one point he states, "Out of necessity -- medical and
emotional -- I have gotten rather skilled at being an escape
artist." Why do you think Campbell feels that he needs to hide his
illness? Is it significant that Anna is the first to break down his
barriers and hear the truth? Why, for example, does he flippantly
dismiss all questions regarding Judge with sarcastic remarks?
6) At one point, Campbell thinks to himself: "There are two
reasons not to tell the truth -- because lying will get you what
you want, and because lying will keep someone from getting hurt."
With this kind of thinking, Campbell gives himself an amazingly
wide berth; he effectively frees himself from speaking any
semblance of the truth as long as the lie will somehow benefit
himself or anyone else. Did it concern you that a lawyer would
express an opinion like this? Do you think, by the end of the
story, that Campbell still thinks this moral flexibility is okay?
In what ways might this kind of thinking actually wind up hurting
7) It is interesting that Campbell suffers seizures that only
his dog can foresee. How might this unique relationship mirror some
of the relationships between humans in this novel? In what ways
does Judge introduce important ideas about loyalty and
8) On page 149, Brian is talking to Julia about astronomy and
says, "Dark matter has a gravitational effect on other objects. You
can''t see it, you can''t feel it, but you can watch something
being pulled in its direction." How is this symbolic of Kate''s
illness? What might be a possible reason for Brian''s fascination
9) Near the end of the novel, Anna describes "Ifspeak" -- the
language that all children know, but abandon as they grow older --
remarking that "Kids think with their brains cracked wide open;
becoming an adult, I''ve decided, is only a slow sewing shut." Do
you believe this to be true? What might children teach the adults
in this novel? Which adults need lessons most?
10) "It''s more like we''re astronauts, each wearing a separate
helmet, each sustained by our own source of air." This quote comes
from Anna, as she and her parents sit in silence in the hospital
cafeteria. Besides being a powerful image of the family members''
isolation, this observation shows Anna to be one of the wisest,
most perceptive characters in this novel. Discuss the alienation
affecting these characters. While it is obvious that Anna''s
decision to sue her parents increases that sense of alienation
throughout the novel (especially for Anna herself), do you think
that she has permanently harmed the family dynamic?
11) During the trial, when Dr. Campbell takes the stand, he
describes the rules by which the medical ethics committee, of which
he is a part, rules their cases. Out of these six principles
(autonomy, veracity, fidelity, beneficence, non-maleficence, and
justice), which apply to Anna''s lawsuit? Moreover, which of these
should be applied to Anna''s home situation? In other words, do you
think a parent might have anything to learn from the guidelines
that the doctors follow? Are there family ethics that ought to be
put into place to ensure positive family dynamics? I so, what
should they be?
12) Early in the legal proceedings, Anna makes a striking
observation as she watches her mother slip back into her lawyer
role, noting, "It is hard to believe that my mother used to do this
for a living. She used to be someone else, once. I suppose we all
were." Discuss the concept of change as it is presented in this
story. While most of the characters seem to undergo a metamorphosis
of sorts -- either emotionally or even physically (in the case of
Kate), some seem more adept at it than others. Who do you think is
ultimately the most capable of undergoing change and why?
13) Discuss the symbolic role that Jesse''s pyromania plays in
this novel, keeping in mind the following quote from Brian: "How
does someone go from thinking that if he cannot rescue, he must
destroy?" Why is it significant that Jesse has, in many respects,
become the polar opposite of his father? But despite this, why is
Jesse often finding himself in the reluctant hero position (saving
Rat, delivering the baby at boot camp)? Brian himself comes to
realize, in the scene where he confronts Jesse, that he and his son
aren''t so different. Talk about the traits that they share and the
new understanding that they gain for each other by the end of the
14) My Sister''s Keeper explores the moral, practical
and emotional complications of putting one human being in pain or
in danger for the well being of another. Discuss the different
kinds of ethical problems that Anna, as the "designer baby,"
presents in this story? Did your view change as the story
progressed? Why or why not? Has this novel changed any of your
opinions about other conflicts in bioethics like stem cell research
or genetically manipulated offspring?