''Moral dilemnas' in fiction that weren't a dilemna to you (Open Spoilers re My Sister's Keeper)

I thought of this because I bought My Sister’s Keeper on my Kindle the other day. I really despised the end of this book, but I liked the book itself, so I decided I could just read up to the end and then stop.

Now, as I said, open spoilers, so here’s the plot of the book. There’s this couple, who have a son, Jesse, and then a daughter, Kate. Kate is diagnosed with leukemia.
Mom and Dad, upon finding that Jesse isn’t a good match for Kate, decide to have another daughter, Anna, who they genetically engineer as much as possible with today’s technology to be an exact match for Anna. Basically they extract a bunch of embryos and pick the one that is the closest match.
From the time Anna is born she is basically considered spare parts for Kate. That doesn’t mean they don’t love Anna, but they take blood, tissue, spinal fluid, and anything else Kate needs, without ever asking Anna. Some of these procedures are very painful.
On top of all of that, Anna and Jesse’s entire lives are subjugated to Kate’s needs. Nothing they ever do is important enough; if Kate has a setback or a hospital visit or anything else, they are instantly relegated to a distant second place. Understandable on the part of Mom and Dad, but it does affect the kids greatly.
When the book opens, Anna is being told to give up a kidney for her sister. Anna goes to a lawyer to demand emancipation from her family and legal & medical rights over her own body. This of course throws a huge wedge in the family. Meanwhile, Jesse is living in the garage, neglected, and into drugs, and generally a layabout.

Eventually it turns out that Kate has actually gone to the lawyer because Anna has asked her to do so. Anyway, this is presented as a huge moral dilemna.

Except…I never found this to be a moral dilemna, at all. Everything Mom and Dad did is wrong. Making a kid just to be backup parts, neglecting your elder child, prioritizing the sick child to the point where the other children feel like they have to act out just to get attention, and doing everything else they did, is nothing but wrong to me, on every level. And I hated the parents for doing it.

The ending pissed me off and surprised me too. In the end, (Open Spoilers, remember?) Anna dies in a car accident and thus Kate gets all her organs and lives on to adulthood anyway. It seemed like such a cheap copout to me, but when I started reading on the Internet about it, people all said that the author “couldn’t alienate either fanbase by choosing a side” so she picked this middle ground.

It made me want to spit on the book, I tell you - I hate feeling robbed of a proper ending, and I was firmly in Anna’s camp. After you spend the whole book rooting for her and then she dies anyway…it seemed like a cheat.

But again it’s because I never saw a moral dilemna at all. And maybe some people can explain to me the other side of it. I know the parents wanted to save their baby but the way they did it was downright heinous.

Also, what about other such ‘dilemnas’ that you can only see one side of? I’m sure there are lots.

hard for me to get worked up about the dilemma in such an awful book. By the way - the movie totally changed the book’s themes and ending. and it was still awful.

Wait, who went to the lawyer?

It’s been years since I read the book but I don’t remember feeling any conflict about her choices. She deserved the right to her own body.

Ha! I remember this book. Only dimly, but weren’t the parents supposed to be the bad guys? I thought the moral dilemma was that given that yes, the parents are totally lame, does the “created” sister still have any moral responsibility towards the sick sister?

I agree with you about the ending – a total copout.

I think this about people having affairs in fiction, sometimes – in real life, I understand how and why it can happen, but in fiction sometimes I’m all “eh?” The example I am thinking of right now is in Jhumpa Lahiri’s book The Namesake, which is notable because other than that particular plotline I loved the book, and I loooove Lahiri’s work in general like crazy. Anyhow, there’s a plotline where protagonist marries a woman, and it’s the kind of thing where they got married because everyone expected it rather than because they truly loved each other, and that part was done really well.

And then the wife goes off and has an affair kind of randomly, for no real reason, and I was all “really? Get a life! Get a hobby or something!”

Wow, what a copout. Too bad… sounds like a great book otherwise.

(Who amongst the readership would’ve felt alienated if Anna had gotten her emancipation and Kate died? Readers with terminal diseases?)

I think you got a bit backwards. Kate (the sick sister) asked Anna to go to the lawyer because Kate wants all the intervention to end.

I think…

Sorry! I thought I did good, too. Anna went to the lawyer because Kate asked her too. And I thought the parents were supposed to be the bad guys, too, but the ending and the comments on the Internet really surprised me.
raspberry hunter, I agree totally. I am thinking of (IIRC) the Horse Whisperer, in which the woman goes and has an affair just because her husband is a bit ordinary and there’s this new guy who’s super sexy and her “true love” and all that bullshit. Women having affairs is considered empowerment too often, cheating on men that don’t deserve it, whereas men having affairs is considered the lowest of the low.

Hmmmm, to stay with your husband, Stanley the rapist, or to leave him. Decisions, decisions…

Awesome, because that’s what I remember and I was worried I’d completely reversed some of the plot. I suspect the author was afraid that if Anna lived on and Kate didn’t, people would see it as unjust and think that Picoult was proposing an attitude of “Fuck family, I got what’s mine.”

I’m sure I’ve seen innumerable “moral dilemma” moments in TV shows and movies where the obvious solution was to put a bullet in the bad guy’s head, but offhand I can only think of a few instances where this occurs.

Peter F. Hamilton, Judas Unchained (sequel to Pandora’s Star)

Going to put this in the box… If you have a desire to read these books unspoilered, don’t click below:

[spoiler]An interstellar civilization is being overrun by an alien species (the “Primes”) which is genetically compelled to wipe out any other life form. Prior to this happening, another alien species “entombed” them inside a force field that enveloped the Prime’s solar system, preventing them from running rampant over the galaxy.

A human exploration ship accidentally turns off the force field (they don’t know what’s inside), releasing the Primes, who immediately (well, within a few years) start a war of annihilation against humankind.

Humans fight the Primes, lose 1/3 of their star systems. It is discovered that the alien species is, in fact, controlled by a single alien which acts as the brain for all the other aliens - kill it, you kill the species. Humans develop superweapon which turns stars into novas, which is now going to be used against the Primes, killing them all. (The brain alien remains on the home world and cannot move.)


One of the main characters in the book, best described as a 24th-century hippie, decides that killing the main Prime alien is “wrong” as we would be wiping them from existence, which is, like, totally uncool, man. So he steals the superweapon and a spaceship and flies back to the Prime planet to see if he can restart the force field.

He succeeds. Everybody is happy.

Except (and here’s where I stop recounting the story)…

The genocidal aliens still exist. They still want to destroy mankind. The force field, while impenetrable, is still capable of being shut down - both by accident and design. The “solution” is anything but, and the moral dilemma is, imho, completely empty: the Primes want to destroy humanity and will do everything in their power to do so.

If there is a guy in my house and he’s trying to kill my family (and let’s say he’s already killed my dog and daughter), I’m not going to tell my gun-wielding wife “Stop! Let’s see if we can lock him in the closet because murder is bad, mkay?” [/spoiler]


Here’s a link where I go more into this, if y’all care: Peter F. Hamilton -- Pandora's Star - Cafe Society - Straight Dope Message Board

This is the big one for me too, I HATE fiction where the “hero” agonizes over killing a mass murdering maniac who can’t be stopped. I keep thinking kill the fucker! Its immoral to leave him alive!

The Dark Knight comes to mind, how many thousands of people would Batman let die before putting a bullet in the Joker’s head?

In Avatar The Last Airbender TV show Aang agonizes over killing the Firelord, even to the point of avoiding facing him. Eventually by chance another option becomes available, but to be clear this guy was waging a genocidal war on the entire world! He had already wiped out 2 “ethnic” groups and was going to personally burn alive an entire nation before Aang stopped him. Aang is able to communicate with the past incarnations of the Avatar for advice, and all of them advise him to kill the fuck!


Meh–I can kind of see the space hippie’s side.
It’s like your wife being prepared to shoot the evil knife wielding guy in your house, but your uncle sneaks up behind him and knocks him out. Sure he can wake up and be a threat again…but your wife still has the gun.

Pretty much every time the Prime Directive has ever been (mis)used in Star Trek. Having the protagonists mull over whether it is immoral to save innocent lives from a disaster is not a good moral dilemma, it just turns your characters into monsters.

If you want to watch a good episode about the Prime Directive, watch Stargate SG-1’s “The Other Side”.

The pilot episode of Voyager contained the most messed up invocation of the prime directive ever.

An alien uses a large space station sized teleportation device to grab Voyager and many other ships from the alpha quadrant, at the same time this is happening the station is under attack from localaliens that have been assaulting the station for years.

While the crew is escaping the alien dies and it is clear the local aliens will soon have control of the station, and while not exactly a super threat they aren’t very nice.

Rather than use the station to return Voyager home Janeway uses the ship’s weapons to demolish the station citing the prime directive, which strands the ship.

How in the fuck is stopping the inevitable seizure of the station by the local aliens, something that was going to happen whether Voyager was there or not, a prime directive issue? If anything what they did was a violation of the PD!

It’s sad that people don’t understand the moral dilemma here.:frowning:

Because killing the Joker makes you as bad has he is. This is a specific point of The Dark Knight Returns and is why the Joker has to kill himself, for instance.

If you take the law into your own hands and kill someone, you’re no better than the person you killed. Especially considering the fact that every “evil” person can justify his actions.

Screw that. If it’s self-defense or in the defense of innocents, and that’s the option available versus letting him kill people, then by god, I’m killing the bastard.

That doesn’t fly with me. Killing a mass murderer is not morally equivalent to killing an innocent bystander.

It’s many years since I saw the movie Sunshine but I do remember being the only person in the cinema not bawling her eyes out. I wanted to throw rocks at the protagonist who’d rather die and leave her child without a mother than have her leg amputated.

People understand it fine. They just find that idea fatuous and self-centered.

If a mass-murderer is getting ready to kill a bunch of innocent people, I could maintain my moral purity and be a better person than the mass-murderer. Or I could act to let all those innocent people live. If I prioritize my moral purity over the lives of innocent people, I’m kind of monstrous.

Maybe killing the Joker makes me as bad as he is, whatever, fine. I’ll be as bad as the Joker if that’s what it takes to let all the innocent people live.