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Ethics in “My Sister’s Keeper” Film by Cassavetes


My Sister’s Keeper is a 2009 film that focuses on the story of a family where a daughter has a severe illness. Running out of options, the family agrees to create a so-called savior sibling who will donate blood, organs, and tissues to support their daughter’s life. The film explores various sensitive issues, although the central moral dilemma represented there is whether or not it is ethical to create savior siblings to help children with serious illness. The present paper will outline the plot and themes of the film and explore the key ethical issue presented in it from the standpoint of 10 different ethical theories.

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Summary and Themes

The film begins with an introduction of the family, which involves Brian and Sara and their children Anna, Kate, and Jesse. Kate has leukemia, which is a dangerous type of cancer. The only way to sustain Katie’s life is through organ and tissue donation. Not being able to find a genetic match for Kate in the family, her parents decided to perform designer in vitro fertilization. As a result of the procedure, Anna was born.

Her organs and tissues are genetically compatible with Kate’s, and the family uses her blood, stem cells, and tissues to support the other Kate’s life. When Kate requires a kidney donation, Anna refuses to help, suing her parents for medical emancipation instead. Towards the end of the film, it is revealed that Kate asked Anna to refuse because she did not want to live with illness any longer. The Court grants Anna medical emancipation, and Kate dies peacefully in her sleep.

The main themes of the film are family, freedom, and death. The film explores relationships between the main characters in great detail, thus highlighting the various aspects of family dynamics. Additionally, the core conflict of the film is between Anna’s desire to gain freedom and Sara’s wish to save Kate from death. By linking these three themes together, the film explores various ethical issues. However, the main ethical question that the film focuses on is whether or not creating savior siblings to save a child’s life is morally right.


In utilitarianism, the distinction between morally right and wrong actions depends on their consequences for others. An ideal solution, from this viewpoint, is the one that provides the most benefits for the largest number of people involved. Considering the situation in the film, the decision to create a savior sibling for Kate could be ethical since it prolongs Kate’s life and prevents her family from suffering the loss of their daughter.

Deontological ethics is concerned with the nature of the action rather than its consequences. At first glance, the action of organ and tissue donation appears to be ethical. However, it is important that, in the film, Anna does not consent to donate organs and tissues, and thus the action would be better described as taking the organs and cells of a person without consent. Based on deontological ethics, the use of savior siblings’ organs and tissues is only ethical when they are old enough to donate willingly. Since the situation in My Sister’s Keeper was different, the actions of the family in the film are unethical.

Altruism is concerned with contributing to other people’s wellbeing regardless of the consequences for a person. In the case explored in the film, the parents’ decision would not be considered altruistic since the procedures affected Anna’s quality of life and health. Nevertheless, if it were Anna’s decision to support her sister’s life, it would have been altruistic since she would make a personal sacrifice to save another person.

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Egoism is often viewed as the opposite of altruism since it focuses on the benefits of action for the moral agent. In the film, the decision to create a savior sister was based at least partly on the parents’ unwillingness to lose their daughter. Hence, the parents acted in their self-interest because they wanted to prolong Kate’s life regardless of the consequences. From the viewpoint of ethical egoism, the use of a savior sister was a morally right decision.

In virtue ethics, the focus is on the moral character of the person committing a particular action. Thus, an action can only be considered morally right if a virtuous person would do it under the same circumstances. In the chosen scenario, the parents’ decision did not exemplify a morally right choice under virtue ethics since they caused Anna’s suffering while trying to save Kate and acted based on emotion rather than reason and virtue.

The social contract theory considers the moral and political rules of behavior that people agreed to follow to live in society. This theory posits that people should live in accordance with social and legal norms; otherwise, society would not function. Although this theory does not apply to the selected case specifically, the use of another being for personal gain would be considered unethical as it contrasts with social norms. Thus, the use of a savior sister in the film is unethical by this theory.

In natural law theory, whether or not an action is morally right is judged based on universal moral standards. The right to life is important in this theory, and the moral standards are derived from human nature rather than from an external authority. While the willingness to prolong a child’s life is in accordance with the natural law theory, the use of savior siblings would be considered unethical since it goes against the universal moral principles of avoiding harm to others.

Positive law is a term used to describe the laws enacted by people. In ethics, positive law theory distinguishes between morality and laws, although society is required to live in accordance with laws. Whether the use of savior siblings is ethical depends on the legal norms existing in a particular country. In the United States, the conception of savior siblings is legal, and thus the parents’ actions comply with the positive law theory.

Ethical relativism focuses on compliance with cultural norms of morality, thus arguing that an action is judged based on the values and beliefs of a particular culture. In American culture, personal freedom and human rights are of great value, and Anna’s position in the family contradicts American beliefs. Hence, from the viewpoint of ethical relativism, the parents’ actions were wrong.

Finally, in ethical nihilism, there is no such thing as right or wrong action, and thinking in moral terms facilitates errors. This viewpoint is different from other ethical theories since it posits that it is not possible to distinguish between right and wrong. From the standpoint of nihilism, the use of savior siblings is not morally right or wrong but merely an action required for a person’s survival. Hence, Sara and Brian should not be judged for their decision at all.

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Possible Solution

Based on the analysis, there are various views that can be taken with respect to the use of savior siblings in general, and the situation portrayed in My Sister’s Keeper specifically. Still, most ethical theories discussed in the previous section are against the use of savior siblings in a way portrayed in the film. My personal views are in line with the deontological standpoint, where the nature of the action is more important than its consequences.

This is because the case of savior siblings is rather complex in terms of its consequences, and taking them into account makes it difficult to identify a solution. However, the act of conceiving a child solely for organ and tissue donation and then engaging the child in medical procedures from birth contradicts the principles of morality because it violates individual rights and causes harm. Therefore, the use of savior siblings is unethical, and other treatments should be considered instead of subjecting a person to the life Anna had in the film.


Overall, the film My Sister’s Keeper provides a great opportunity to reflect on the ethical dilemma of using savior siblings. The analysis of the problem from various ethical standpoints shows that the parents’ actions in the film can be considered both ethical and unethical depending on the particular theory applied. Personally, I side with deontological ethics because it considers the nature of the action irrespective of other factors and provides a specific answer. In contrast, ethical theories that focus on variations in moral norms and consequences mostly disregard the violations highlighted in the analysis. Because the violations of personal rights and freedom are crucial in the film, the results achieved by applying deontological ethics are more relevant to the situation.

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