Siamese twins 'may live for up to two years'

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The Independent Online

The Siamese twins Jodie and Mary, who are joined at the abdomen, have a reasonable chance of living for many months - and even a couple of years - if they are not surgically separated, the Court of Appeal was told yesterday.

The Siamese twins Jodie and Mary, who are joined at the abdomen, have a reasonable chance of living for many months - and even a couple of years - if they are not surgically separated, the Court of Appeal was told yesterday.

Simon Taylor, counsel for the twins' parents, told the court that the second medical opinion obtained from doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital suggested that the five- week-old twins would not necessarily die within the next few months. He warned that the court must be "very careful" on the question of their supposedimminent death. "It can't really be said that left together the twins are certain to die - we just don't know," he said.

The cardiologist from Great Ormond Street Hospital said the chances that the children would survive beyond the six months previously envisaged were now greater than 20 per cent. One surgeon also believed the twins might live for many months, or even a few years, but were unlikely to survive for any longer than that.

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

In the first medical opinion given to the court, doctors from St Mary's Hospital, Manchester, where the twins were born and are being looked after, said there was an 80 to 90 per cent chance that if they remained joined both would die within three to six months. At the same time, it is understood that any surgical separation would mean certain death for Mary, the weaker of the twins.

The girls' parents, who are devout Roman Catholics from a Mediterranean country and who came to Britain to give their children the best possible chance of survival, are opposed to separating the twins because they believe it is "not God's will". They say they want nature to take its course.

Later, in an unprecedented move, Cormac MurphyO'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, gave a written submission to the court. He said that to save the life of Jodie at the expense of the weaker Mary "should be regarded as morally impermissible."

The archbishop, the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, said the family should be allowed to leave the country and take up an offer of care in Italy if they so wished.

He said his argument came from the belief "that God has given to humankind the gift of life and ... 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." The ends would not justify the means, he argued, adding that any attempt to separate the twins would constitute a dangerous precedent in English case law.

His submission said it was unreasonable to seek to justify the ending of a life on the basis that the life in question might "lack value or worth so that he or she would be better off dead".

The "natural authority" of the parents should be respected. He added that they had "simply adopted the only position they felt was consistent with their consciences and with their love for both children".

At the end of submissions, Lord Justice Ward, one of three senior judges hearing the case, said the court expected to give a ruling at the end of next week. "I don't want to give a decision at the moment because I'm not sure what it is."

The court was told that the "unviable", weaker twin, Mary, was growing at the expense of her stronger sister, Jodie. Lord Justice Ward said the court should be kept informed of any significant changes in the twins' condition.

He refused to grant an order to prohibit the twins' parents from leaving the country and said they had shown an "attitude of responsibility".