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Why is the separation of Siamese twins so controversial - surely it's better to have one healthy baby that two disabled ones

01:00 Tue 05th Feb 2002 |

asks modge:
A.
It has been reported that the parents of the British Siamese - or conjoined - twins have accepted that an operation to separate the twins will cause the death of one of them. However, this outcome is by no means certain and there could be battles in the courtroom.

Q. Why Haven't we been through all of that with the conjoined twins from Gozo
A.
That was a different situation. In that case, if the twins were not separated, both would have died because one had no functioning heart and only a primitive brain. The Catholic parents fought to stop the twins from being separated because they believed that the decision belonged to God. The High Court eventually overruled the parents by deciding that that weaker twin should die to save the strong one.

Q. So what's different here
A.
The chances are that, if the British conjoined twins don't die before they are born (as half of conjoined twins do), they would both survive if not separated. And the right to life, which is enshrined in the Human Rights Act, was incorporated into British law last year. This argument can be used by all interested groups. Because the twins won't be separated until June, there's plenty of time to appeal against any decision to separate them.

Q. Who will try to stop them being separated
A.
The Pro-Life Alliance, for one, has stated that it expected to take up the case. The Alliance's spokesperson said that the case of the Gozo twins was not argued sufficiently because there wasn't enough time, but is certain that this case will go all the way to the House of Lords.

Q. Is it definite that one will die if they are separated
A.
Yes. Despite having separate umbilical cords, and separate arms, legs and heads, they share a heart and liver. A liver can be split in two, but a heart cannot. In December, a cardiac specialist told the parents that the heart was further inside one twin's body, which indicated that she might survive a separation.

Q. Do most conjoined twins survive a separation
A.
Most conjoined twins are stillborn or die soon after birth. Those who live have a better chance of surviving a separation because of technological advances, such as scanning. However, it depends entirely on where the twins are joined and which body parts they share. There's a 75% success rate for surgical separations.

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By Sheena Miller

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