The parents, not judges, should decide the future of these conjoined twins

Share

There are no moral absolutes in the case of the conjoined twins known as Jodie and Mary - now six weeks old - on whose fate the Court of Appeal ponders this week. There are three approaches, each of which could be deemed to be absolute. There is the utilitarian calculation that assumes that the survival of the stronger child at the expense of the weaker is morally a better outcome than the death of both, which is the certain result of the failure to intervene medically. That was the judgment of the lower court and, given the strongly utilitarian tradition of English law, is likely to be the ruling of the Court of Appeal next week.

There are no moral absolutes in the case of the conjoined twins known as Jodie and Mary - now six weeks old - on whose fate the Court of Appeal ponders this week. There are three approaches, each of which could be deemed to be absolute. There is the utilitarian calculation that assumes that the survival of the stronger child at the expense of the weaker is morally a better outcome than the death of both, which is the certain result of the failure to intervene medically. That was the judgment of the lower court and, given the strongly utilitarian tradition of English law, is likely to be the ruling of the Court of Appeal next week.

But there are two other possible absolutes. The first is the right to life. If that right is absolute, then it must be upheld for the weaker child as much as for the stronger. On that basis, no one can have the right to decide on the weaker child's behalf that she would choose - if she were competent to decide - to curtail even her short and ailing life for the sake of her sister's survival.

The second is the right of parents to decide their children's future. Some have attempted to dismiss the parents' assertion of that right by describing it as stemming from their "deeply held religious beliefs", used here as a euphemism for irrationality and obscurantism. But there is a perfectly rational argument for saying that it is parents who are in the best position to judge what is in the best interests of their own children.

Of course, the truth is that all three of those approaches should be balanced in the circumstances of any particular case - and especially in this difficult case. The utilitarian calculation cannot be absolute, because it involves the deliberate taking of another life. The right to life cannot be absolute, because all but the most zealous pro-lifer would accept that abortion is the lesser evil in situations where there is a threat to a mother's life, or where a foetus would go to term with some fatal disability.

And the parents' right to decide cannot be absolute, because the state has justifiable grounds to intervene in cases such as when Jehovah's Witnesses refuse routine medical treatment for life-threatening conditions.

In the end it is with the parents that this agonising decision best belongs. In considering the best interests of the children, the parents have had in mind both the needs of the weaker twin - who will die as soon as she is separated - and the stronger twin, who, if she survives, will be doomed to a life of disability. Some have criticised the children's parents for saying they do not want to bring up a disabled child because of the attitudes toward disability of their relatively poor Mediterranean island society (although it's not as if disabled children are particularly well treated in Britain). But the point is that the burden of bringing up a severely disabled child is not necessarily one that the courts have the right to impose on unwilling parents.

But there is a more powerful point. It should not be the role of the courts to force these unhappy parents into choosing to kill one of their babies in order that the other should survive. The horror of making such a choice will be self-evident to any parent. The pity is that this decision was ever placed before the courts instead of being left where it belongs, with the parents who will have to live with the consequences of the decision long after the rest of us have forgotten this very sad case.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star