An Agonizing Case Draws Closer to Conclusion

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It was, from the beginning, a case no one could win. For nearly two months, Britain has been riveted to the spectacle of Mary and Jodie (not their real names), twins born conjoined at their lower abdomen. Both girls are widely expected to die without a separation — an operation that will likely end Mary's life. Friday, an anguished Appeals Court in London upheld a lower court's decision to separate the infants, ruling it is legal to end Mary's life in order to defend Jodie. "I freely confess to having found [the decision] truly difficult to reach," one Justice said at the conclusion of the case. "Difficult because of the scale of the tragedy for the parents and the twins, difficult for the seemingly irreconcilable conflicts of moral and ethical values..."

The parents of the twins, an unidentified couple from the Maltese island of Gozo, which has colonial ties to Britain, are devout Roman Catholics, and fiercely believe that their daughters should not be subject to medical intervention. "If it's God's will that both our children should not survive then so be it," they wrote earlier this month. The parents have indicated that they will take the case to its next platform: The House of Lords (Britain's version of the Supreme Court), and later, perhaps, to the European Court.

The twins, who were born last month in Manchester, are still in the hospital, sharing one heart and one set of lungs. Because the heart is located in Jodie's chest cavity, she is considered likely to survive a separation procedure. Mary, on the other hand, will die without what the court termed "the life support system" provided by her sister. The infants' heart is painfully overworked by the blood supply necessary for two bodies, and is expected to fail in three to six months if the operation does not take place.

In a statement read before the Appeals Court, the parents pleaded with the judges to let "God's will" take its course. In a jarring addendum to their argument against the surgery, they also indicated they'd likely look into foster care or adoption in England if Jodie did survive the separation, citing the remoteness of their island and the lack of medical facilities there. "We cannot see how we can possibly cope either financially or personally with a child where we live, who will have the serious disabilities that Jodie will have if she should survive the operation."

The twins' parents might be surprised to know that this aspect of their position against the separation takes a page from the abortion rights handbooks. The pro-choice stance, which is theoretically anathema to these parents' beliefs, holds that if a pregnant woman feels unable to care for a child, she should not be required to carry the fetus to term. Jodie and Mary's parents argue against an ostensibly life-saving procedure because they are worried that saving one child could result in severe financial and emotional hardship for the family. In their minds, it's better for both children to die than for one to live — because that is the outcome they prefer. Unfortunately for these parents, the British court system is not prepared to grant them that power.