Don't Separate Siamese Twins, British Pro-Life Groups Say

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

London ( - British pro-life groups are urging the parents of unborn Siamese twins who share a heart to resist "enormous pressure" and refuse to separate the babies.

The twins share a heart and a liver, and it is expected that one of them will die if they are separated. The girls' parents were initially offered an abortion when it became clear that mother Tina May was carrying conjoined twins in November, but May and fiance Dennis Smith decided to go ahead with the pregnancy.

May is six months pregnant and will have a Caesarean section at the end of April if the twins - named Courtney and Natasha - are not born by then.

Doctors at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital in London believe Natasha has the larger part of the shared heart and could survive a separation operation.

"The worst part will be having to let Courtney go having built a bond with her," May told The Sun newspaper. "But one thing that will ease our grief is knowing Courtney would have looked exactly the same as Natasha, so she will be a constant reminder of our lost little girl."

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) urged sympathy for the girls and the parents. But SPUC general secretary Paul Tully questioned why a decision on the separation of the twins has apparently been taken before birth.

"We are very concerned that the parents will face enormous pressure if they try to change their mind and save both their babies," Tully said. "We fully support the use of the best surgical and medical skills to help the twins, but we would urge the doctors to observe the principle that they should not do harm in the hope that good may come of it. They should not end the life of one twin for the sake of the other."

Tully likened the case to a pair of hypothetical patients, one of whom had a bad liver and the other, a bad heart.

"By the logic applied here, doctors could decide to remove the good organ from the weaker patient in order to save the stronger. This would deny equal value and dignity of the weaker patient.

"In the case of Natasha and Courtney, the doctors seem to be taking the approach that a so-called normal life for one is better than both living but conjoined. What does this say of people with disabilities? Are they of less value than others?" Tully said.

The British Pro-Life Alliance (PLA) also condemned a possible separation, calling it an "automatic death sentence for one of the twins."

"The deliberate killing of an innocent child is always wrong," a PLA spokesman said. "Neither the parents nor the doctors have the authority to make such a decision. While the baby rests unsuspecting in the womb, sadly this country allows its life to be terminated, but once it is born the situation changes. From then on it is the clear duty of the state to protect the lives of its citizens."

The PLA pointed to a similar case in Italy where doctors are considering combining a separation operation with a heart-lung transplant for the weaker twin.

"Perhaps (the hospital) will consider such a possibility for the U.K. twins, in which case the right to life of the more fragile baby will have been respected," the spokesman said. "Survival chances are very low but at least the baby has a tiny chance of making it through surgery."

Conjoined twins occur in about one in every 100,000 pregnancies. In 2000, the separation of a pair of Siamese twins prompted a lawsuit that went all the way to Britain's High Court. Judges ruled that the division of Gracie and Rosie Attard should go ahead despite the opposition of their parents.

Michael and Rina Attard, devoutly religious Catholics from Malta who brought the twins to Britain for better medical care, refused the operation on the grounds that Rosie would certainly die. The justices took evidence that indicated that both twins stood little chance of survival if the separation was not performed.

Rosie died during the separation operation, but doctors say Gracie will likely lead a healthy life. The twins' parents have since returned to Malta.

See Earlier Story:
Joined Siamese Twins Pose Dilemma for Catholic Parents (5 Sept. 2000)

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