Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary/Review: Jodi Picoult has once again tackled a moral dilemma. Up for debate this time is whether the mother of a girl in need of a heart transplant should accept the heart of the man who will be executed for the murder of her husband and older daughter. And if Picoult had stuck to one dilemma, this might have been a better book. Instead, the book is complicated by Green Mile-like questions of whether the condemned man had the power to perform miracles and a Dead Man Walking-like last-hour relationship between the death row inmate and a priest.
In typical Picoult fashion, there is no clear right and wrong in this story. Shay Bourne, the convicted man, does not really contest his conviction, or his sentence. He simply insists that he must be allowed to donate his heart afterward, despite the fact that being executed by lethal injection would make this impossible. Enter an ACLU lawyer, with issues of her own, who's determined to get Bourne executed in a way that would allow for his heart to be taken, and, by so doing, turn a spotlight on the inhumanity of the death penalty.
Her argument is that Bourne's religion requires that he be allowed to donate his heart in order for him to find salvation. Here is where the issue of his "miracles" come in. When he supposedly makes wine flow from the taps in the prison, divides a single piece of gum among 7 men, and heals the prisoner in the next cell who is dying of AIDS, word leaks out and people flock to the prison gates, proclaiming the Second Coming. Naturally, there are an equal number on the other side who think he's a fraud or even the devil. Whatever the truth of the matter is, and we're left wondering, Maggie Bloom, the ACLU lawyer, uses these "miracles" and some of Bourne's own words to try to convince the court that he belongs to a religion, even if he's the only member of it, that requires organ donation as necessary to salvation. And here I have to give Picoult credit: what other popular author manages to work the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) into a novel?!
Although well written as all of Picoult's books are, the multiple threads and questions keep this one from being as good as it ought to have been. Hopefully, in her next book she will go back to presenting us with a with just one moral dilemma, as she has done so well so many times before.