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British Court OKs Twin Surgery

September 22, 2000

LONDON (AP) _ The Court of Appeal ruled Friday that surgeons may separate 1 1/2-month-old Siamese twins against the wishes of their Roman Catholic parents, but the agonizing moral and medical issues could go to the House of Lords, Britain’s highest court, if the parents wish.

The judges concluded the case came down to an issue of self-defense _ the right of the stronger twin to be released from a sister who would eventually kill them both.

In their unanimous decision, the three-judge panel expressed sympathy with the cruel reality faced by parents whose daughters are ``equal in their eyes and in their love.″

``The sad fact is that (the weaker twin) lives on borrowed time, all of it borrowed from her sister,″ said Lord Justice Alan Ward. ``She is incapable of independent existence. She is designated for death.″

Doctors said the girls, identified only as Jodie and Mary, will die within months if they are not separated, but that Jodie could live on her own.

The parents, who were determined to submit to ``God’s will,″ had appealed a lower court ruling in favor of surgery.

The case may not be over _ the parents were permitted to appeal Friday’s decision to the House of Lords, Britain’s highest court, although they were uncertain whether they would do so.

The parents, identified only as Roman Catholics from the Maltese island of Gozo in the Mediterranean, came to Britain for the Aug. 8 birth of the twins, who were joined at the lower abdomen.

There has been no suggestion the parents wish to take the twins back to Gozo, a 26-square-mile island with a population of 5,000, and the court has not issued any order requiring the children to remain in Britain.

``Following today’s judgment, the parents will consider the advice they are given and whether to launch an appeal,″ said John Kitchingham, the family’s lawyer, adding that his clients appreciated the court’s ``most detailed consideration.″

The court had struggled with the issue of whether the surgery would amount to intentionally killing Mary, whose heart and lungs cannot sustain life.

``Mary’s death would not be the purpose of the operation, although it would be its inevitable consequence. The operation would give her, even in death, bodily integrity as a human being. She would die, not because she was intentionally killed, but because her own body cannot sustain her life,″ Justice Robert Walker said.

Two medical specialists appointed by the court to review the case endorsed surgery.

Ward, summarizing the judgment, said, ``Though Mary has a right to life, she has little right to be alive. She is alive because and only because _ to put it bluntly but nonetheless accurately _ she sucks the lifeblood of Jodie, and her parasitic living will soon be the cause of Jodie ceasing to live.″

``Jodie is entitled to protest that Mary is killing her. Nobody but the doctors can help Jodie. Mary sadly is beyond any help,″ he said.

``I am therefore left in no doubt at all that the scales come down heavily in Jodie’s favor,″ Ward said.

Laurence Oates, a lawyer appointed to represent Mary’s interests, said he would consider an appeal.

``In reaching that decision I shall wish to take careful account of the parents’ views and wishes,″ he said.

``It has been my concern to ensure that all arguments on behalf of Mary should be taken into account in the consideration of these issues,″ he said. ``I am satisfied that this has been done.″

The parents, in a statement read in court on Sept. 4, said they had come to England ``to give our babies the very best chance for life in the very best place.″

``Now things have gone very badly wrong and we find ourselves in this very difficult situation. ... We believe that nature should take its course. If it’s God’s will that both our children should not survive then so be it,″ they said.

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On the Net:

Ruling text, http://www.courtservice.gov.uk/judgments/judg_home.htm

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