Conjoined Twins' Future Hanging In The Balance

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - Mary, the little conjoined twin girl whose life and death has been in the hands of the British justice system for the past month, edged closer to eternity Thursday after her parents decided not to appeal any further a court ruling that the girls should be separated to save the stronger baby, Jodie.

British doctors are now free to go ahead with a bid to surgically separate the month-old twins, a procedure the devout Roman Catholic parents have, up to now, firmly resisted, saying it was not "God's will" that Mary should die in order that Jodie may live.

After doctors argued that both girls would eventually die if they were not separated, the Court of Appeal ruled last Friday that the operation should take place. The parents then had to decide whether or not to take their case to the highest court, the House of Lords.

Their decision not to do so was announced Thursday by the Official Solicitor - the state lawyer who has been representing the parents - who also said he would not be appealing the case himself, either.

However, a pro-life campaigner whose organization has been deeply involved in the case said Thursday that a Roman Catholic cardinal's offer of a safe haven at a hospice in Italy remained open, and the parents were encouraged to accept it.

Josephine Quintavalle of the Prolife Alliance said by telephone from the Mediterranean island state of Malta that she would be meeting Friday with the bishop of Gozo, the tiny island off Malta that is home to the parents.

Quintavalle confirmed the Italian offer and its implications would be discussed. The church on the 26-square kilometer island has been supportive of and in contact with the parents, who are based at the English hospital where the twins have been kept since their birth.

The bishop of Gozo, Nikol Cauchi, was quoted earlier this week as describing any move to separate the twins as murder.

A number of British specialists involved in medical ethics also disagreed with the court's decision. One dissenter, Journal of Medical Ethics editor, Professor Raanon Gillon, said the court had "quite clearly removed parental consent from these parents, and in my view, quite illegitimately."


Quintavalle said she had not been surprised at the decision of the parents, for whom the entire case must be draining, overwhelming and confusing.

The Prolife Alliance had itself not been enthusiastic about a House of Lords appeal, she added. "We believed it was going to be a very expensive initiative that would go nowhere."

But she thought it "reprehensible" that the Official Solicitor, Laurence Oates, had chosen not to appeal himself.

"He has a duty to protect Mary's life, and for him just to follow ... the parents, I think, was a bit of a cop-out."

Making the announcement Thursday, Oates said that he had taken into account the parents' wishes, as well as "the moral, ethical and legal arguments" submitted to the court by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales and the Prolife Alliance. Both submissions supported the parents' original decision to let nature take its course.

"After the most anxious deliberation, I have concluded that I will not appeal further."

Oates added that he was satisfied the decision would not set a legal precedent that would "undermine the principles of law deriving from and supporting the respect for the sanctity of life and the belief that all life has equal value, which I have been most concerned to uphold."

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow