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Imposed separation of conjoined twins— moral hubris by the English courts?
  1. Raanan Gillon
  1. Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London University

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    Late last year the English Court of Appeal confirmed a lower court's ruling that doctors could impose an operation to separate recently born conjoined twins, overriding the refusal of consent of their parents. The doctors believed the operation would probably save one of the babies at the cost of killing the other, while not operating would highly probably be followed by the death of both twins within months of their birth. The parents, said to be devout Roman Catholics, believed that it was absolutely wrong to kill one of their babies, even to save the life of the other.

    Undoubtedly many people, the writer included, would agree with the English courts that the “least worst” option was to separate the twins and save one at the cost of killing the other. But surely many fewer people would have imposed their own resolution of this acute moral dilemma upon parents who conscientiously chose the other limb of the dilemma, refusing to kill one baby even in order to save the other. Were the English judges right, then, to take away the parents' normal right and duty to make health care decisions on behalf of their children and instead impose their own answer to what they admitted to be a terrible dilemma? Describing the two alternatives in terms of choosing between the lesser of two evils on the one hand, and the obligation not to kill on the other, Lord Justice Ward declared, according to The Times law report,1 that: “Parents who were placed on the horns of such a terrible dilemma simply had to choose the lesser of their inevitable loss [sic]”. But that surely is to beg the moral question in favour of the judges' preferred answer to this moral dilemma. The fact is that there are—as …

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    • (See Ethics briefings, page 62.)

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