Law could keep twins in Britain if parents seek haven

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The Independent Online

Siamese twins born in Manchester could be made wards of court if their parents attempt to take up an offer of sanctuary in Italy to escape an order to save one by letting the other die, lawyers said yesterday.

Siamese twins born in Manchester could be made wards of court if their parents attempt to take up an offer of sanctuary in Italy to escape an order to save one by letting the other die, lawyers said yesterday.

A Roman Catholic Italian cardinal made the offer of a "safe haven" after he was contacted by the ProLife Alliance, saying he wanted to provide an "ethical alternative" to Friday's High Court ruling that the twins should be separated, against their parents' wishes.

His intervention came as the Official Solicitor, Jim Baker, representing Mary, the weaker twin who would die as a result of separation, considered whether to appeal against the court's ruling. Mr Baker's decision is expected either today or tomorrow but if he decides against an appeal, surgery is expected to go ahead very soon.

The issue could become even more complicated if the parents, who are Catholics from a remote Mediterranean island, decide to accept the Cardinal's offer. Legal sources said doctors at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester couldapply for the girls to be made wards of court, preventing them from travelling abroad without the court's permission.

After Friday's ruling the ProLife Alliance, a political party which fielded 55 candidates at the last election, contacted Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, Archbishop Emeritus of Ravenna, in north-east Italy, over what it termed the "legalised murder" of one twin. He immediately offered them an apartment in an Italian hospital as well as "indefinite and completely free medical services" as soon as they wish.

Bruno Quintavalle, the director of the alliance, said: "The alliance believes that the family should be offered the possibility to avail themselves of help from a European country which respects their wishes. We have not spoken to the parents but the offer is on the table and it is a safe haven from the pressure of separation.

"They do not want one of their children to be killed and going to Italy would give them the opportunity for their wishes to be respected.

"We are particularly worried that this family came here to get help from a country where facilities [to look after the children] do not exist and now they have been ordered to kill one of their children."

Mr Quintavalle said if Mary, who relies on her sister Jodie for heart and lung function and is alive only because they are attached to each other, died of natural causes, the separation of the two girls could go ahead without any ethical dilemma.

Sources at St Mary's said both girls would die in between three and six months if they were not separated. The chances of Mary dying naturally and allowing doctors to separate the babies successfully at that point were almost non-existent. "They will both die simultaneously. If one dies there is no chance that the other would not die within hours because there is only one heart."

The legal battle began after their birth on 8 August when it was realised that they shared a heart and lungs. Jodie, who is bright and alert, is essentially a life support machine for Mary.

Their parents flew to Manchester on 16 May after consultation between their island's government and Britain. Doctors approached the courts seeking permission to separate the girls after their parents said that enabling one to live at the expense of the other was not "God's will".

On Friday, in written evidence, they said they could not contemplate the death of one child to allow the survival of the other. Mr Justice Johnson overruled them saying: "For Jodie, a separation means the expectation of a normal life; for Mary it means death."

The grandmother of the two girls, who is living with the couple, said that the family had been shocked when pregnancy scans revealed Siamese twins but that abortion was illegal. She said: "We didn't know what to do but there was never any question of an abortion. It is God's will."