'Unviable' Siamese twin Mary feeds off sister Jodie, Appeal Court told

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The Independent Online

The "unviable" and weaker Siamese twin, Mary, might be growing at the expense of her stronger sister, Jodie, the Court of Appeal in London was told yesterday.

The "unviable" and weaker Siamese twin, Mary, might be growing at the expense of her stronger sister, Jodie, the Court of Appeal in London was told yesterday.

Doctors say if they operate on the twins, who are joined at the lower abdomen, Jodie's life can be saved because she has a functioning heart and lungs. Mary would not survive.

The court decided, in an unprecedented move, to allow the Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, to make written submissions about why he considered the "tragic and heart-rending" pair should be allowed to die.

Three senior judges, one of whom said he had endured sleepless nights over the life-and-death dilemma they have to rule on, also decided to allow the world to see accurate drawings taken from a photograph showing the plight of month-old Mary and Jodie.

They are joined at their abdomens, with their heads at the opposite ends of their merged bodies and their legs emerging at right angles from each side. The twins, given false names to protect their identity, were born at St Mary's Hospital, Manchester, on 8 August.

The parents, who are devout Roman Catholics, said to be from a remote area in middle Europe, came to the UK to give their children a better chance. They are against separating the twins because they believe it is "not God's will" and they want nature to take its course.

But they are aware that if their daughters are not separated, both have an 80 to 90 per cent chance of dying within six months.

The parents are appealing against a High Court decision last month giving permission for the operation. Doctors say they could give Jodie a normal life, although there is doubt whether she would be able to stand or walk. Mary has a primitive brain and lives only because she is attached to her "bright and alert" sister and relies on her heart and lungs.

Adrian Whitfield QC, appearing for Central Manchester Healthcare Trust and the doctors, said Jodie was not growing as the surgeon treating her would expect, although Mary - given no hope of survival - was "growing normally".

He told Lord Justice Ward, sitting with Lord Justice Brooke and Lord Justice Robert Walker that the latest assessment showed Jodie's heart remained steady and there was no sign of failure. But the surgeon had noticed Jodie's lack of growth in the past week, as had a nurse.

Mr Whitfield said: "From the physical point of view, Jodie is not growing, although she is eating well. The surgeon thinks it may be that Mary is drawing nutrition from Jodie and growing at her expense.

"This could have implications for the timing of the operation (if separation is sanctioned by the courts), but there is no immediate rush."

Medical experts said the best time to perform the operation was at three months. But the surgeon monitoring their progress said the operation should be done at two months if Jodie failed to grow.