Medical, Religious Values Clash over Conjoined Twins ; Parents Decided Yesterday Not to Appeal Court Decision That Would Sacrifice One for the Other

By MacLeod, Alexander | The Christian Science Monitor, September 29, 2000 | Go to article overview

Medical, Religious Values Clash over Conjoined Twins ; Parents Decided Yesterday Not to Appeal Court Decision That Would Sacrifice One for the Other


MacLeod, Alexander, The Christian Science Monitor


The parents of a pair of conjoined (Siamese) twins have decided not to appeal a court ruling in a case whose legal, religious, and ethical dimensions might tax the powers of the biblical King Solomon.

The case focused on when, or if, it is justifiable to take one life to save another, and who gets to make the choice; whether parents, doctors, or judges should have the final say in determining medical treatment for children; and how much religion, culture, and "quality of life" should factor in to decisions on whether to perform complex procedures.

On Sept. 22, a panel of three senior appeals-court judges decided to allow doctors to separate the infant girls, identified in court under the pseudonyms "Jodie" and "Mary."

Doctors acknowledge that Mary, the weaker of the two, could not survive on her own. But without separation, medical experts say both will die within a few months.

The parents, deeply religious Roman Catholics from the Maltese island of Gozo in the Mediterranean, argued that their faith does not allow them to sanction killing one daughter even in order to save the other. The parents told the appeals court, "We cannot begin to accept or contemplate that one of our children should die to allow the other to survive. That is not God's will."

They added that the expert medical care the surviving girl would need is not available in their remote village. Further, the parents said, they feared the local social stigma attached to the disabled.

The parents had been considering whether to appeal to the House of Lords. The upper house of Parliament is Britain's final court of appeals.

But Official Solicitor Laurence Oates, who represents minors in court cases, said yesterday that the parents had notified him that they did not wish to make a further appeal.

"I am satisfied that the decision will not set a precedent, which would undermine the principles of law deriving from and supporting the respect for the sanctity of life and the belief that all life has equal value, which I have been most concerned to uphold," Mr. Oates said in a statement released to the media.

Roman Catholic and other religious leaders have spoken out in support of the parents' right to reject a medical procedure that would result in death for one child, a subject that generated heated debate in Britain.

The depth and character of the dilemma posed by the case was stressed last week by Lord Justice Alan Ward, who presided in the appeals court.

Delivering a judgment that he termed "excruciatingly difficult," Mr. Justice Ward said, "It is in the best interests of Jodie that separation takes place." He noted, "[Mary] is incapable of independent existence. She is ... living on borrowed time." Ward added that permitting the operation was the "least detrimental choice."

Another appeals judge said he had consulted the writings of Aristotle and Cicero in an attempt to make up his mind and had finally decided that separation was justified.

On Gozo, the court's decision had caused deep dismay. In Xaghra, the parents' village, people immediately gathered in church to pray for the twins. …

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