Conjoined Twins Could Live for Years

Conjoined twins at the heart of a legal battle between doctors and their parents may not be doomed to die within months, a lawyer for the parents told an appeals court today.

The dilemma facing the British court over the fate of the conjoined twins — the medical term for Siamese twins — has captured public attention, sparking a debate about whether doctors have the right to kill one baby in the hopes of saving the other.

Doctors at St. Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, where the babies were born on Aug. 8, believe both twins will die within six months if they are not separated, but that one twin — identified as Jodie — could survive on her own. The less-developed twin, Mary, could not survive separation, doctors say.

A lower court ruled last month that the babies should be separated, even though that would mean certain death for Mary. The court accepted doctors’ arguments that Mary is “essentially a parasite and should be removed, so her sister can live.”

The parents, who are Roman Catholics from an unidentified European country, oppose the operation and have appealed the lower-court decision. They have told the court they love both their children and “cannot begin to accept that one should die to enable the other one to survive.” That, they say, is “not God’s will.”

Chances of Survival

Simon Taylor, counsel for the parents, said today a cardiologist from London who examined the twins thought there was at least a 10 percent to 20 percent chance that the children could survive more than six months.

A surgeon also thought the twins could live together many months, perhaps even a few years, Taylor told the three judges hearing the appeal.

“I’m aware that that raises a horrible specter of survival going into years — God knows how many years — but it exists,” Taylor said.

Lord Justice Alan Ward commented that these opinions were “pretty vague,” but Taylor said he raised them only because of the repeated assertion that the weaker twin would die in any case.

A Question of Human Rights?

The ProLife Alliance, which campaigns against abortion and euthanasia, informed the court in a written submission that it had offered the parents a “safe haven” in Italy for the family. The group’s attorney, David Anderson, said the parents might considering leaving Britain if they lost their appeal.

Anderson also argued that permitting an operation to separate the twins — knowing that Mary would die as a result — would violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

Article 2 of the human rights convention guarantees the right to life and declares that “no one shall be deprived of life intentionally,” save in the case of a criminal ordered to be executed under due process of law, Anderson said.

Thus, “to perform an operation whose consequence is acknowledged to be Mary’s death — whether or not it is judged to be murder as a matter of English law — will be an intentional deprivation of life within the meaning of Article 2 (1).”

Tim Owen, an attorney appointed to represent the interests of Jodie, argued that the convention included an obligation to protect life, and would not rule out the operation.

“The purpose is not to kill Mary — therefore it is not an intentional deprivation of life,” said Owen.

ABCNEWS’ Sheila MacVicar and The Associated Press contributed to this report.