This intentional taking of a life must be vetoed by the House of Lords

Share

The Appeal Court has ruled in favour of murder. The unhappy and intolerable decision to order the killing of the five-week-old conjoined twin known only as Mary is in the worst tradition of English utilitarianism, which exercises a considerable hold over our judges. In the calculus of utility, the choice is between one child surviving and both dying. This seems like a simple, if uncomfortable, decision, and it follows a mechanistic logic that steeled Lord Justices Ward, Brooke and Walker against the counter-arguments.

The Appeal Court has ruled in favour of murder. The unhappy and intolerable decision to order the killing of the five-week-old conjoined twin known only as Mary is in the worst tradition of English utilitarianism, which exercises a considerable hold over our judges. In the calculus of utility, the choice is between one child surviving and both dying. This seems like a simple, if uncomfortable, decision, and it follows a mechanistic logic that steeled Lord Justices Ward, Brooke and Walker against the counter-arguments.

But the court's decision contravenes a prior principle not just of English law but of universal civilised values, namely that murder is wrong.

Until now, of course, such universal values have not been codified in British law. That will change next month, when the universal human rights laid down in the European Convention come into effect in Britain under the Human Rights Act. The first of those rights, under Article 2, reads: "Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally, save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime."

Despite all the attempts by doctors and judges to use language diminishing Mary's claim to be a person, this article must apply to her. One of the less pleasant features of this case has been the descriptions of Mary as having a "primitive" brain, as "living off" her stronger sister, and as "draining" Jodie of life, as if she were in some way culpable.

The fact that Mary is going to die anyway cannot possibly give anyone else the right to decide that her few months of life are not worth living, or that she would choose, were she capable of so doing, to sacrifice her life to save her sister's.

There is a secondary, more pragmatic, reason for thinking that the Appeal Court has reached the wrong verdict. That is that the twins are not independent beads on the abacus of life, to be added or subtracted. They are babies, born into a family, to parents who have to care for them, bring them up and take responsibility for them. Their parents have rights - rights which the courts should be most reluctant to abrogate - in deciding issues as deeply personal and tragic as this one.

The judges should be commended on their openness in sharing much of their agonised thought processes with the public, making several statements in court about how they had lost sleep over the case, and even accepting that they were being asked to "save Jodie by murdering Mary", as Lord Justice Ward put it. Unsurprisingly, however, they did not ask themselves whether they had the right to decide the matter in the first place.

It is also a minor consolation that the circumstances of this case are so extraordinary that the precedent it sets is limited. But it is the hard cases which test the law at the edges, bringing definition to the grey areas, and subjecting otherwise abstract principles to the stress-testing of real people in real, heart-breaking situations. The right to life is one such principle, so widely accepted in everyday life that it can be surprisingly overlooked in extreme and unusual cases.

Permission has already been given for this case to go to the House of Lords. The Lords must reverse the decision, thus bringing English law into line with the un-written law of fundamental human rights.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
US Secretary of State John Kerry  

When only 4 per cent of those killed by US drone strikes care named members of al-Qaeda, it's hard to trust American foreign policy

Abigail Fielding-Smith
Countries that have relaxed sex-worker laws have seen a fall in Aids infections but no increase in street-based prostitution  

As an ex prostitute, I urge all the political parties to commit to the Sex Buyer Law

Crystal
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London