Q&A with Jodi Picoult about My Sister's Keeper
Q: Your novels are incredibly relevant because they deal with topics that are a part of the national dialogue. Stem cell research and "designer babies" are issues that the medical community (and the political community) seem to be torn about. Why did you choose this subject for My Sister's Keeper? Did writing this novel change any of your views in this area?
JP: I came about the idea for this novel through the back door of a previous one, Second Glance. While researching eugenics for that book, I learned that the American Eugenics Society - the one whose funding dried up in the 1930s when the Nazis began to explore racial hygeine too - used to be housed in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. Guess who occupies the same space, today? The Human Genome Project… which many consider "today's eugenics". This was just too much of a coincidence for me, and I started to consider the way this massive, cutting edge science we're on the brink of exploding into was similar… and different from… the eugenics programs and sterilization laws in America in the 1930s. Once again, you've got science that is only as ethical as the people who are researching and implementing it - and once again, in the wake of such intense scientific advancement, what's falling by the wayside are the emotions involved in the case by case scenarios. I heard about a couple in America that successfully conceived a sibling that was a bone marrow match for his older sister, a girl suffering from a rare form of leukemia. His cord blood cells were given to the sister, who is still (several years later) in remission. But I started to wonder… what if she ever, sadly, goes out of remission? Will the boy feel responsible? Will he wonder if the only reason he was born was because his sister was sick? When I started to look more deeply at the family dynamics and how stem cell research might cause an impact, I came up with the story of the Fitzgeralds. I personally am pro stem-cell research - there's too much good it can to do simply dismiss it. However, clearly, it's a slippery slope… and sometimes researchers and political candidates get so bogged down in the ethics behind it and the details of the science that they forget completely we're talking about humans with feelings and emotions and hopes and fears… like Anna and her family. I believe that we're all going to be forced to think about these issues within a few years… so why not first in fiction?
Q: Sisterhood, and siblinghood for that matter, is a central concept in this work. Why did you make Isobel and Julia twins? Does this plot point somehow correspond with the co-dependence between Kate and Anna? What did you hope to reveal about sisterhood through this story?
JP: I think there is a relationship between sisters that is unlike other sibling bonds. It's a combination of competition and fierce loyalty, which is certainly evident in both sets of sisters in this book. The reason Izzy and Julia are twins is because they started out as one embryo, before splitting in utero… and as they grew their differences became more pronounced. Kate and Anna, too, have genetic connections… but unlike Izzy and Julia, aren't able to separate from each other to grow into distinct individuals. I wanted to hold up both examples to the reader, so that they could see the difference between two sisters who started out as one and diverged; and two sisters who started out distinct from each other, and somehow became inextricably tangled.