Archbishop says separating twins is 'morally impermissible'

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The Independent Online

The Archbishop of Westminster today said it should be regarded as "morally impermissible" to attempt to save the life of Siamese twin Jodie at the expense of her weaker sister Mary.

The Archbishop of Westminster today said it should be regarded as "morally impermissible" to attempt to save the life of Siamese twin Jodie at the expense of her weaker sister Mary.

Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, a leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, told the Court of Appeal the tragic family should be allowed to leave the country, if they wished, and take up an offer of care in Italy.

He was making an unprecedented intervention in the life-and-death dilemma over the twins which has attracted worldwide attention.

The twins, given false names to protect their identity, were born at St Mary's Hospital, Manchester, on August 8.

Without an operation, it was originally expected both would die within six months, although fresh information came to light in court today which suggests they could live longer.

Doctors say an operation could give Jodie a chance of a full life but will mean killing Mary, who has just a primitive brain and lives only because she is attached to her "bright and alert" sister and relies on her heart and lung functions.

The parents, supported by their Church, believe that separating the twins is "not God's will" and want nature to take its course, even if that means the loss of both children.

They are appealing against a High Court ruling last month allowing the operation to go ahead.

Today the Archbishop supported their appeal, saying: "The refusal by the parents of Jodie and Mary to consent to surgery to separate them involves no injustice towards either of their children and is indeed wholly reasonable on the grounds that they have advanced.

"In particular, respect for the rights of both their children makes any other choice on their part morally impossible.

"The court should respect their refusal and allow the parents to take up, if they wish, the offer of care in Italy, which seems to be the type of care that is consistent with the moral principles they rightly uphold."

The Archbishop was making written submissions to Lord Justice Ward, sitting with Lord Justice Brooke and Lord Justice Robert Walker, who have already described how the question: "Do you kill Mary to save Jodie?" has caused them sleepless nights.

Earlier a QC for the ProLife Alliance, which campaigns against abortion and euthanasia, submitted that any operation to separate the twins in the knowledge that the weaker twin Mary would die would breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

ProLife also said it had offered a "safe haven" in Italy to the babies and their devout Roman Catholic parents, who come from abroad and strongly oppose the operation.

Lawyers for the family indicated that this is a proposition that has not yet been considered, as they are taking everything step by step.

Simon Taylor, counsel for the parents, told the court the second medical opinion obtained from doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital was to the effect that the twins' death was not imminent, and he warned the court must be "very careful" about the certainty of her imminent death.

He said: "It can't really be said that left together the twins are certain to die - we just don't know."

The GOS cardiologist had said there was a greater than 10-20% chance that the children would survive beyond the six months previously envisaged.

A surgeon also considered that the twins could live together many months, perhaps even a few years, although they were not likely to survive long term.

"I'm aware that that raises a horrible spectre of survival going into years - God knows how many years, but it exists."

The archbishop expressed his gratitude to the court for being allowed to intervene in the case and said his reason for doing so "is to offer some reflections based on the principles of morality which the Catholic Church holds in common with countless others who value the Judeo-Christian tradition".

He hoped those reflections would be of some assistance to the judges "in deciding this tragic and heartrending case in which everyone involved is clearly trying to discern, and to do, what is for the best".

His arguments stemmed from the belief "that God has given to humankind the gift of life, and as such it is to be revered and cherished".

He added: "Though the duty to preserve life is a serious duty, no such duty exists when the only available means of preserving life involves a grave injustice.

"In this case, if what is envisaged is the killing of, or a deliberate lethal assault on, one of the twins, Mary, in order to save the other, Jodie, there is a grave injustice involved.

"The good end would not justify the means. It would set a very dangerous precedent to enshrine in English case law that it was ever lawful to kill, or to commit a deliberate lethal assault on, an innocent person that good may come of it - even to preserve the life of another."

There was no duty to adopt particular therapeutic measures to preserve life when these were likely to impose excessive burdens on both patients and carers.

The archbishop called for respect "for the natural authority of parents" and said this could only be overridden where there was clear evidence they were acting "contrary to what is strictly owing to their children".

He added: "In this case, the parents have simply adopted the only position they felt was consistent with their consciences and with their love for both children."

He urged the appeal judges to reverse the decision of the High Court and not to grant the declaration being sought by the Central Manchester Healthcare Trust and doctors at St Mary's. They want a ruling that it would be lawful to separate the conjoined twins.

"Respect for the natural authority of parents requires that the courts override the rights of parents in the care of their children only when there is clear evidence that the parents are acting contrary to what is owing to their children," said the archbishop.

"The refusal by the parents of Jodie and Mary to consent to surgery to separate them involves no injustice towards either of their children and is indeed wholly reasonable on the grounds they have advanced.

"In particular, respect for the rights of both their children makes any other choice on their part morally impossible."

The ProLife Alliance, which campaigns against abortion and euthanasia, submitted via a QC that any operation to separate the twins in the knowledge that the weaker twin Mary would die would breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

ProLife also said it had offered a "safe haven" in Italy to the babies and their devout Roman Catholic parents, who come from abroad and strongly oppose the operation.

Alliance QC David Anderson said in written submissions to the court that the family leaving the country was currently only a "hypothetical scenario".

But it could become an issue if the parents lost their appeal against a High Court ruling last month allowing the operation to go ahead.