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British Court Rules Doctors May Separate Conjoined Twins Over Parental Objections

Aired September 22, 2000 - 2:09 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: In Great Britain, a court ruled today that doctors may separate conjoined twins over the objections of the parents, though the operation means one of the little girls will certainly die.

ITN's Lawrence McGinty reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE MCGINTY, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): Lawyers representing the parents left the court of appeal disappointed that they'd lost and that the operation to separate the twins can now go ahead. They had wanted nature to take its course and God's will to prevail.

JOHN KITCHINGMAN, FAMILY'S LAWYER: They must now consider whether to take the case to the House of Lords or to the European Court of Human Rights. No decision has yet been made.

MCGINTY: The officials solicitor, who's acting for the weaker twin, Mary, said he, too, is considering an appeal.

LAURENCE DATES, LAWYER FOR "MARY": This has no happy solution so far as she is concerned. And as I said, I have wanted to make sure that all the arguments that could be advanced on her behalf are considered by the court.

MCGINTY: This drawing of court photographs shows how Jody and Mary are joined at the lower abdomen. Facing each other they may look similar, but they're not. Mary, the weaker twin, has an enlarged heart that doesn't beat properly. Her lungs are rudimentary and cannot inflate to breathe. Jody has a healthy heart and lungs. Indeed, it's her circulation that's supplying Mary with oxygen, keeping her alive.

In court, Lord Justice Ward, the senior judge, says separating the twins would inevitable result in Mary's death. But he was wholly satisfied that was the least detrimental choice.

(on camera): The operation would be doctors coming to Jody's defense and removing the threat of fatal harm to Jody caused by Mary's draining her lifeblood. It would be a killing, but a killing in self- defense. (voice-over): But to the archbishop of Westminster, who made a submission to the court, today's decision could be a dangerous precedent.

CORMAC MURPHY O'CONNOR, ARCHBISHOP OF WESTMINSTER: A precedent might be set in English law that might allow an innocent person to be killed or lethally assaulted even in order to save the life of another. If such a precedent has been set, then I would have grave misgivings about this judgment.

MCGINTY: But leaving the court this evening, Lord Justice Ward told ITN that today's ruling would not be a precedent.

LORD JUSTICE WARD, APPEAL COURT JUDGE: This is such a unique case, the circumstances are probably never likely to be repeated again.

MCGINTY: It was, in his own words, an impossible decision to make, but he and two fellow judges had to make it.

Lawrence McGinty, ITN, at the Court of Appeal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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