When will people learn

…that death is not the answer to anything. And that no one has a right to take life. No matter what the reason.

On the other hand, when will people find a middle ground between freedom to choose and right to life, as this lady says.

I’ve just finished reading this book called Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult and it’s about a child who suffers from OI or Osteogenesis Imperfecta – a brittle bone disease that means she will have a lifetime of suffering broken bones even through something as small as a sneeze.

I enjoy Jodi Picoult for the gamut of issues she brings up. Morality, ethics, life, lawsuits. And in this one, the mother decides, when her daughter is almost 6 years old to sue the gyne who took care of her during the pregnancy so that the money she wins can go towards the child’s medical costs. I understand. Except – that the doctor is her best friend and did suggest an abortion, which she clearly said her husband would not appreciate. The book leads you through a tangle of emotions and relationships with the elder daughter who is neglected in this situation, becoming bulimic and her husband who is against her suing the doctor and calling their daughter’s a wrongful birth – and the impact it has on their marriage. And of course the 6 year old who gets the idea that her mother wishes she wasn’t born. Which of course is what the case is about.

The mother does love her, and hopes that she will understand this is only about making money (although I again, couldn’t relate to her here because she is suing her best friend despite having clearly told her that she wouldn’t have the abortion) and walks the slippery slope between telling her daughter that she wants her and telling the court that she’d have aborted her had she been given a chance.

The court case is followed with much interest by the entire town and what really touched a chord was that people with special needs were talking to the media about it. And asking – how special is special? When do you draw the line and say that this person’s needs make him unworthy of living a life. They bring up the life of Helen Keller which is a common example but I am sure there are many more. This is not to get into the anti-abortion debate, but it makes you wonder what goes through the mind of a man in a wheelchair when he hears of a child being aborted because it might have a handicap. How does it make him feel about his own life?

I won’t tell you how it ends, but in all Jodi Picoult’s books, I notice the mother is made into this obsessive creature who forgets home, husband, career, other child in her bid to take care of the child with special needs. I wonder how true this is. The last one I read was My Sister’s Keeper and I remember writing a post about how I’ve tried hard not to let the Bean’s asthma and eczema make her different and ensure that the Brat is not neglected during her attacks or made to suffer because we’re so focussed on her.

What really bothered me though was the cop out. The end. Anyone read it?

In which case why don’t you tell me if you enjoyed it and who you sort of sided with in your own head.


42 thoughts on “When will people learn

  1. I always wonder why pro-life and pro-choice should be two separate groups. Does “life” only equate to the life inside the mother’s womb? What about quality of life – for the mother and the child? Why is pro-life not fighting for the mother’s life? Isn’t her life worthy enough?

    Me: I dont think I’d ever support a mother’s life being at risk. If there’s a choice – i’d always pick the mother.

    That said – its said that pro-choice is only about the mother’s choice and not the right of the child to live – no? worth some thought.

    All I know is, most mothers suffer a lot of agony when faced with the decision of abortion. I don’t think we should make it any harder on them because of our personal religious beliefs.

  2. The Dr.Tiller case is getting a lot of attention here in US, its really awful too. There is a fair amount of backlash directed at the prolife poeple, and in my mind, it is completely justified. Let’s ignore for a while that this was good doctor, whose patients have nothing but the kindest words for him. A person’s character should really not be a argument for saying they should not have beem murdered. It does make the heart sadder, but still….
    So, putting that aside, how could a pro life person justify taking another life? Is it just me or does their entire philosophy rest on the fact that every life is precious. As for saying, its for the greater good, killing the doctor saved others…they don’t believe in abortion, even when it could save the mother’s life in life-threatening scenarios. So there goes that arguemnt.
    You are right, death is not the answer. But there is one thing I firmly belive in, a woman’s right to choose. That should not really be up for debate.

  3. I read ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ (one of two books by her that i read) and I agree that her mother sketches come out rather focused on the sick child.

    The end was… disappointing? I sided with the healthy sibling though because it felt like she was being used as a support system for the sick sister without her ever having been consulted about anything. She was conceived with that very object in mind and I suppose it felt like she was being cheated of a chance at her own life.

  4. That’s a tough decision, but it’s the reason I’m strongly pro-choice. I believe the choice exists for difficult situations like this. When it’s used over and over again as contraception, which I believe is exceedingly rare, then I’d definitely raise a few suspicious eyebrows. I’m glad the right-wing loonies in India leave abortion alone for the most part.

  5. Haven’t read,or even heard of the author.Not too much into modern stuff,but sounds like a good read.What scares me is that there’s someone else making critical choices for you,when we know that human beings can overcome almost any obstacle.On the other hand,when you know that the child you’re about to bring into the world will probably never have a shot at a normal life,what do you do?

  6. i love jodi picoult’s books…my sister’s keeper brought tears to my eyes…her books endings leave you a dissatisfied but i would still read her for the issues she tries to address and the way she brings out conflicts.

  7. Hmm this one I am yet to read. Just read Nineteen minutes though and I love the way she has told the story. The end here was slightly predictable but the journey made it worth the anti-climax.

  8. 1. If abortion= killing, why did the guy resort to the same w/ the doctor. I dont get that.

    2. Speaking of not getting, OI is an inherited disorder, so suing the doc for wrongful birth? Really? She should be suing herself and her husband for wrongful genes.

  9. Hi MM,
    I got hooked to Jodi Picoult after reading My Sister’s Keeper. As you say, she deals with a myraid of ethical issues, more than one in a single book and also with the human emotions associated with it. I too have noticed that the mother is always made out to be obsessive and sometimes unreasonable, however in saying that, I think, that only a mother can be all those things about their child. What I don’t understand or agree with in her books is the total neglect of the healthy child. I have now read 6 of her books and am onto the 7th and some themes are recurring – illnesses, moral dilemma, child abuse and wife beating – possibly the most talked about and analysed issues of our day.
    As for the end of ‘Handle with Care’ – it was an anti-climax for me but after thinking about it hard enough, I don’t see any other ‘fair’ way of ending it!
    Vanishing Acts is a good book too, do read that one.

    Me: I’m soooo not happy to read anymore of her amrita. she ALWAYS does a cop out at the end that makes me want to hit her over the head with her books which are far too lengthy anyway! But yes – the research and the issues are very interesting.

  10. I LOVE all of her books, and I was really torn about this one. I felt like the mom was selfish, willing to ruin the life of her best friend, to throw her husband to the side and cause her daughter to lose her own best friend. For money.
    The ending, OH MY GOD. I don’t want to say too much in case someone hasn’t read the book, but I was PISSED how dare her after all that….
    And then…. Oh my god.

    I have read all of her books and I am waiting not so patiently for the next one, about a boy with behavior problems that sound similar to the Beast…..

  11. Sadly my lib doesn’t have that book yet…but have now reserved others by Jodi. Thanks!

    You mentioned the Bean’s asthma a coupla times. My daughter Divya has asthma too, I blogged about it recently. Am headed off to find your post…and try my first shot at trackbacks!

    It is tough to give that much attention to one child, especially for a ‘pathological’ reason.

    Dhruv thinks Divya’s getting spacer puffs and nasal sprays is something special, and even knows how to operate her nebuliser at the age of three.It’s hard to convince him medications are not something to hanker after, that too, without making Divya feel she is a sickly creature dependent on medication.

    I would think, without trying to judge, that it’s tough to know you’re going to give birth to a special-needs child and see your life stretching out before you, tied to caring for your child for your lifetime. While people with ‘normal’ kids know their kids will get out of diapers, walk, go to school, get an education and (hopefully) become self-sufficient, independent individuals, a mom of a special-needs child would think she (and her hopefully supportive partner) would have to be a nurse for life. Add the costs, effort, isolation (unless she can find support from other parents in similar circumstances)…all this would make her feel abortion to be her only option.

    At the same time, I can get all idealistic and say life is not about having perfect families, children, careers and lives. Everyone walks a different path, and so many parents of special-needs kids have gone several steps further, and established support groups, spread awareness and help people understand the need for snensitivity, set up help foundations, encouraged govenrment research and healthcare funding for those diseases and generally made life for other ‘similar’ parents easier and more bearable.

    Though asthma is quite manageable with medication (and a far cry from diseases like OI), I did try to set up a support group for parents of kids with asthma, it flopped, but I still think it’s needed.

    I guess the choice is more than whether to abort or not. One can try to avoid it, deal miserably with it, or be at the forefront educating the world about how to live with it, to teach others about how difference, disability and suffering are par for the course.

    Getting too preachy. Still I wouln’t want to judge the choices of parents (or parents-to-be)with special-needs kids. Each one of us has differnt capacities and circumstances, and makes a choice based on that, right?

  12. hey MM, what a coincidence, i just put down this book myself! I was hooked, from the first page to the last… I love how Picoult writes chapters from different people’s perspectives so we get to experience the plot in its entirety rather than from the view of the central character… she makes all characters central basically, which i really enjoy. i had a hard time siding with the mum even though i understood her rationale, not sure if her reasons were worth the falling apart of everything and everyone else around her. maybe i’d have gotten it if i was a mum myself?
    The end was a complete disappointment… such an interesting book and the end was just not necessary, quite differed from my sister’s keeper in that regard. It’s like Picoult just got tired and said oh lets just wrap this up now.
    Still, all in all, a very mentally stimulating read, quite the nuisance i became to my hubby ‘coz i just would NOT put it down 🙂 interestingly, when i told him the story, he sided with the mum immediately!

  13. Hi,

    I had wanted to read Jodi Picoult…My Sister’s Keeper …Yet to do that .. but will like to try this one too.. Where do u find the time to do all this 🙂 Hats off..


  14. Yep, I just finished reading My sister’s Keeper. And I totally loved the father’s character. How he understands his wife’s behaviour towards the son and the younger daughter vis-a-vis the ill daughter.
    Also, in the story, all the while I kept feeling that the mom was too busy wanting to live a perfect life with healthy children that she refused to actually ‘live’ each day and that she was in constant denial of her daughter’s illness in someway.
    On taking sides, I stand by Anna’s decision to not donate a kidney. mainly because of what made her take this decision (don’t wanna reveal the plot here, those who have read it know what I am talking about)

  15. I wonder about this a lot. I have a friend who has a son who is blind and profoundly retarded as well. Whatever the quality of life he has, the mother has had a hard time of it. Especially since her spouse was never helpful at all. And yet, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a tremendously difficult one to take- in her time, the diagnostic options were probably not available.
    The author Renuka Narayanan has a disabled child. Apparently she asked or was told by some baba that such children are nishkaam yogis, who have so little karma to live out that they inhabit bodies which will not allow them to add to their karmic debt. ( My memory may not be completely accurate in the terms, but the concept was unforgettable).
    Having a severely handicapped child is not easy. Living with the decision to terminate may be the only sane option for many.
    My aunt has a mentally handicapped daughter who is now in her mid-fifties. My aunt died a few years ago, though not peacefully because she was most concerned about her daughter. The daughter spends half of the year with each of her brothers, and they have a fairly tough time of it. Some situations are terribly taxing, and it is hard to have one right or wrong choice.

  16. oh well MM. i think these are kinda opinions that you somehow dont change. as many times i think about it for me its a matter of a woman’s choice. period.

    and its defi not easy for the woman and the family to make either choice…

    Me: you think so? I went from rabidly pro-choice in my late teens and early twenties – to a very definite pro-life leaning in the last 4-5 or so years. This post wasnt about that debate at all. More about the book and about the feelings of diferently abled people. And this response is to tell you that sometimes people DO change their stance.

  17. i have always believed, and even today i strongly believe that if a severely disabled child is diagnosed.. something like what the book states, an abortion is advisable because the child might not face any problems as long as the mother is alive, but the siblings might make its life harder in future.

    they get hurt by insensitive people who are either very caring or very rude towards them. in my family i have someone who is mentally challenged and i really wished that person was dead instead of tolerating the kind of treatment he is given day in and day out by his own siblings

  18. I know of a lady who has an autistic son. Since the time she came to know about it, she has gone all out visiting doctors,religious institutions and all the possible faith healers. Her husband and home definitely took a backseat. I saw her husband a couple of times and he doesnt ever accompany her anywhere to any family funtions or even doctors. I dont know whether he resents the child or her for being so wrapped up in the son. Its really sad to see the family this way because the lady is a really nice person and already had a hard life before marriage 😦 Maybe some parents neglect other children when one of them is sick…I dont know but it may be possible. I am surely pro-choice at this point in life.

    Me: Yeah – so am I… but I lean more towards making every effort to preserve life if asked for an opinion. But naturally I dont want any child to suffer life in a home where it wasnt wanted to begin with – so pro-choice.

  19. Profoundly disturbing thoughts, MM. I think I’ll pick up a Jodi Picoult next time I’m at the library.

    Re: your comment about “shouldn’t the unborn child be given a choice to live”… I really don’t know what to say. Do we try to keep mimicking nature’s laws and weeding out the “unfit”, or do we exercise our power to keep more people alive rather than help those who are “fit” to live better? What defines “fit” anyway… except how willing people are to tolerate them?

    Me: true. lots of questions. what is technology for if not to help others get a better life, just like we use it to save lives with a cesarean or chemotherapy. and far does our attitude determine fit and unfit? where in all this to people with smaller disabilities fit in? should they be eliminated? how does this make them feel?

    Bah. No answers, just more questions.

  20. You know MM, I have been a staunch Pro-lifer always.. it didnt take me to become a devout christian or even a mom to figure that out for myself!

    I havent read this particular book but I can kind of understand the choices most mothers make for their children…there is something primal and intense in all of us moms and like you often say for yourself, we make choices often thinking it to be the best given the circumstances,having said so, no man on earth has the right to take a life. Period.

    I agree with @13 when she says we cant have an idealistic life with our perfect families…there are reasons stuff happens to us. Maybe the author is herself looking for answers and is unsure of her beliefs…and hence the disappointing endings?? Must try and read her now…Ive seen her books in the shops around here in Dubai, where sometimes books/lit/info on sensitive topics get banned!

    * sitting with Yohaan in my lap and thinking about your post *

    Thanks for forcing us to think,


  21. @homecooked: I also have a friend whose 16 yr old boy is severely autisitic…they have an 11 yr old girl too and wow, you should see the lengths to make life normal fo their daughter!
    School, swimming,dancing,public speaking,sleepovers..the works! they have recently taken the very difficult decision of institutionalising their boy, they are heartbroken and dying inside, but my friend says in the view of the son’s increasing violent behaviour they owe it to their daughter to send him away, so she can grow up as normally as possible…they are an intensely close knit family, dad,mom,daughter-everyone involved in the boys life…but they are deciding to let go…different from the case you describe, and how interesting no? But at the end of it all, my friend says, she couldnt go ahead and abort Vicky(the son) even though she knew he would have special needs! Blows me away!


    M: yes- i guess in this case they are saying – okay we no longer have the resources (emotional, mental, physical, financial) to nurture you – but we dont deny your right to life. i appreciate that they gave it the best they could….

  22. I have read all of her books – except this one.. waiting for my lib to get hold of it.

    And I am quite amazed at the way she picks up these controversial issues and writes about them..
    I like the fact, that she makes me think. And even if I do not always agree with the way the book ends – it does not stop me from picking up her next offering..

    Waiting to get hold of this book and then read your post again!

  23. Jodi Picoult’s ending in My Sister’s Keeper was a little disappointing, but we can’t crib about it, life is after all not fair. Was the ending of Handle with Care disappointing too?

    Me: yep. this one too. most annoying!

  24. I know of a family whose child is spastic. Girl child, she is almost 12 now, she has a sister who is normal. The parents did provide medical assistance initially, but after the second one’s birth, they became wrapped up in her upbringing, so much so that the eldest is neglected except for taking care of her basic necessities. It breaks my heart to think about what the child would be going through, but she is out of that misery, because she can’t think.

    I sometimes wonder what might lead the parents of such neglection, money? resource? I also wonder if they were financially comfortable, will the child have as much rights as that of her sister?

  25. Does it have to be pro-life and pro-choice? How come pro-choice is also not pro-life because in some cases you are actually preventing the death of a mother or the abject neglect of the child.
    That said, I am not an abortion supporter in every case, more of a case by case basis!

    I will have to read the book now!

    Me: they’re not mutually exclusive. similary pro-life should also mean a choice by the child being aborted, no? never a straight answer.

  26. I’ve read Sister’s Keeper. I found it a tad lengthy and the ending, very dramatic. But this was the first time I was reading about how parents deal with healthy and spl care needs children together. So no complaints.

    The movie is coming out this summer and Cameron Diaz is playing the mom. And I find that odd. Hell, I cant picture her as a mom in any movie, leave alone this one!!

  27. Hey MM,*happy smile as this is something I can give my opinion on*
    I have read ‘my sister’s keeper’and I enjoyed it mostly because I was “seeing” a viewpoint from the other side( I “sided” with the dad and Anna-thought the mom was OCD and the pt manipulative)-I work in this field and I have seen the kind of mom described but what I have noticed,in my particular place of work,is that it’s a race/nationality thing and that kids are able to sense their parents’ response to their illness and then behave accordingly-so you get a “white” 2year old screaming and fighting every step of the way,which is not always a bad thing, and on the other hand you get a little “African”toddler holding his arm out for intra-venous chemotherapy injection with just a little cringe or cry as the needle goes in….and then dusting himself off as he goes off to play…in other words,I believe the parents’ attitude to the illness plays a huge role and if you have a set of parents who “accept”the illness,give the child the comforting and care they need when acutely ill and then the rest of the time treat the child as”normal” and involve the sib in the care,that’s ideal but then, this also depends on the seriousness of the condition.Things like cancer in a child take over the whole family and this book has made me wonder if I would have another child if I could save the ill one with absolutely matching stem cells…my primal instinct tells me I shouldn’t even hesitate but the rational part goes”how far and for how long” which was the essense of the book.
    I know I get desensitised seeing death on a daily basis but there is a part of me (The Mom,I think)that still sheds tears with the parents,whatever race, when telling them the news and books like these help with empathising.
    I have read a couple of her other books-good airport reads-but not this one about OI-will pick it up.
    Just a comment about Harshika’s friend with the autistic son-that must have been such a heart-breaking decision to make and I just hope that they have the strength and courage to go through with it,presuming they’re Indian, especially as our society is such a judgemntal one.As you said,the parents must be appreciated for all that they have done.
    Pro-life or pro-choice is a whole topic in itself…

  28. Hey!! I love Picoult’s books..I have read 7-8 books of her, the title of my blog is one of her book titles 😀
    Have you read 19 minutes? It is defintely worth a read!!

  29. *embarrased face*sorry for the loong comment…didn’t realise I was going on and on and on…excusez-moi,s’il vous plais…

  30. “And that no one has a right to take life. No matter what the reason.”

    I’ve always had this confusion. If life is sacred, is that restricted to only human life? I believe in animal rights and it boggles my mind how pro-lifers can turn around and apply the “life is sacred” mantra only to humans. why not animals? who made it a world only for human beings? Perhaps this is off topic but i’ve always wondered about a contradiction, which seems very blatant to me, but maybe not for others.

    Me: you’re right. its why so many people are vegetarian by choice. but then at that rate we should stop eating greens too because plants are living too….
    again, like abortion its a slippery slope. look – here is a home test for gender http://edition.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/09/gender.prediction.test/index.html
    can you imagine how this can skew the sex ratio if it becomes available here?
    on the other hand – there is some validity to the food chain theory.

  31. Well, I have only read Picoult’s the sister’s keeper and yes, I do think the end was a cop-out so that she did not have to deal with hairy issues. The book was dark and no, it was not for me. Interesting to read, but too too much emotional strain. It’s hard to be clinical and logical about things like childhood cancer.

  32. What? She copped out in this one too?! I have read only “My sister’s keeper” and I was disappointed by the ending. If she has copped out in the new book as well then that brings a thought to my mind. Maybe she is doing it intentionally because really, there IS no “right or wrong side” in such sensitive matters IMHO. Maybe she wants the readers to reach their own conclusions regarding which side they are on?

    Me: gosh no yaar Cee. An author isnt allowed to cop out. it might make you a politically correct person but it makes you crap story teller no? how good are you if you leave the reader disappointed? i’d rather annoy three people and take a stand, than fence sit and talk vaguely! no, there is no right or wrong, but you can take a stand.

  33. You are right about that. I remember we said the same thing when we discussed “My sister’s keeper”. The cop out is what ultimately made this a mediocre book for me. I was just thinking out loud as to IF that is the reason for these endings that she chooses.

  34. Agreed there is never a straight answer. Getting the consent of the child being aborted would be a case of the chicken and the egg. What if the mother doesnt want her special needs child? Would abortion be better or the child should be allowed to live and be given up for adoption? Would the child find a home he/she would be well loved in?
    I don’t know.

    Me: read this http://edition.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/09/gender.prediction.test/index.html
    a home test which lets you find out the gender of the child. can you imagine what this would do to our sex ratio?

    which is why i said i am pro-choice with a strong pro-life leaning. it definitely is a case to case situation. but i’d be very unhappy if people kept getting knocked up because they’re careless and then aborted. or aborted for the wrong sex. it just shows a lack of respect for life. on the other hand if the mother’s life is at risk or they feel the child will be born unbelievably handicapped (how much is too much?) then i’d support it. which is what makes it a more pro-choice stance. i’m glad we have the option. i’m sad people often use it lightly.

  35. Reading this post late. Have never read Picoult’s books. However i do remember reading a real life story in Reader’s Digest years ago about a couple who have a 6 month old daugher with OI and are not aware of it. All they see are a few broken bones one day and they rush to the doc..upon questioning the father says all he did was gave his baby a good massage and a warm hug prior to the discovery. The parents are sued for physical assault on the baby and the child is sent to a foster care. The parents lose all their savings and their jobs trying to get their child back. One attorney then takes up their case and agrees to do it for free..it brought tears to my eyes reading about how the child was cared for in a foster home, the emotions that the parents and the older siblings of the child go through. It takes them nearly three years to get the child back. Was a very touching story although i dont recollect the finer points.

  36. ‘I notice the mother is made into this obsessive creature….to take care of the child with special needs’

    My sister who works with children with learning disabilities says this happens very often..in fact, she felt that this was brought out rather well in Tare Zameen Par with the over achieving older brother who often got sidelined in the concern of the family over the younger brother..

  37. and a sort of related comment..I once met a fairly young woman who has a 9 year old with Down’s…though technology is available to detect Down’s during (further) pregnancies with the option to abort, she and her husband chose not to get pregnant again because if it happened that that baby too had Down’s, they would not be able to bring themselves to abort as it would feel like they were rejecting their first child. They have stayed in my mind ever since then.

  38. My older sister has epilepsy and some retardation/learning disabilities. My parents gave me a lot of attention but of course, through school and everything, it was easier for me to manage on my own whereas my sister needed a lot of help. Growing up, I felt I had to be more independent and not add to the extra burden on my parents.

    I think it’s less a question of neglect (which is an issue even in normal families) than one of guilt. My feeling of guilt about being the luckier child has never quite gone away.

    Anyway, back to the book, from what I can make out, this book doesn’t seem to deal with the question of hope. My parents and I have always hoped that my sister’s life will improve (they did, but it’s a long battle between progress and setbacks). I don’t have children but I find it hard to believe that many mothers would not hope, at least for a couple of years, that their child’s abilities or experience of life would improve. Only very few would have the conviction to abort.

  39. Pingback: Dear Gopika | The Mad Momma

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