Friday, February 20, 2009

Disability and Wrongful Birth?: New Picoult Novel

Some of you may know that one of my possible diagnoses (some doctors adamantly think so, others have other explanations) is osteogenesis imperfecta type I, which causes frequent fractures. Explaining why this isn't definite would take me a long time and bore you; regardless, I have the same medical issues, even down to heart issues, connective tissue issues and bleeding, whether or not I have the diagnosis.

So when I read about Jodi Picoult's novel, about a "wrongful birth" suit when a new baby is born with OI type III (a far more severe form), I was a little alarmed, though I know she's handled some controversial material in the past pretty well. Does this mean that readers of the book, or even of the book reviews, will conclude people with OI should not live? Of course, we all know that people often do selectively abort on the basis of disability alone rather than the mother's circumstances.

But an e-announcement from the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation says that Picoult authored the book thinking of disability issues in general and wanted to address "the status of people with disabilities." I'm certainly interested in seeing how the book handles these themes. A look at Picoult's website indicates that the novel has multiple narrators, indicating that different characters have different perspectives on the issues presented. The text of the OI Foundation announcement:

Osteogenesis imperfecta is an important element in the new novel, Handle with Care, by author Jodi Picoult that will be published March 3, 2009. A main character has OI Type III.

The OI Foundation is pleased that this novel has the potential to make more people aware of OI. The story brings to light the hopes, regrets, uncertainties, stresses and joys that are part of life with OI. The book has a mature theme, a wrongful birth lawsuit, and is noted in publicity as having “explicit subject matter”.

In a radio interview the author stated that this book was not specifically about OI, but about the stresses of raising a child with a disability, the ethical questions involved in wrongful birth lawsuits and the status of people with disabilities in society. She was drawn to OI because the children are intelligent, aware of adults and good problem solvers. She wanted the child in the story to be aware of and to understand what her parents were doing by filing the lawsuit.

An OI Foundation website page has been set up to provide information about OI and some of the topics presented in this book. Informational bookmarks will be distributed at some of the stores holding book signings. For more information about the book see the Jodi Picoult website.

Once you've read the book, feel free to contribute comments to
the online discussion about Handle with Care on the OI Foundation's social networking site, NING. The new discussion will be posted after the book is released on March 3.


Kara said...

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with it's representation. I answered several of Jodi's questions as she researched the book and she continually maintained the focus of presenting a dignified look at OI that will make you think.
I am beyond excited that so many people are going to be educated about OI in such an accurate manner. Here's to hoping it can undo the damage that was done by the ignorant presentation of OI in the movie Unbreakable.

FridaWrites said...

Kara, I am always very pleased when writers offer a disability perspective that teaches and educates readers. As you know, that's so rare and we need more such books and films.

I'm glad that you mentioned Unbreakable in particular--that film is a pet peeve of mine.