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Opinion, Comment & Reviews

'Pro-Life' double standards
By Ellie Lee

The operation to separate the conjoined twins, 'Jodie' and 'Mary' went ahead yesterday, with 'Jodie' surviving. She is now in intensive care, in a critical condition.

This followed a last minute attempt by the Pro-Life Alliance on Friday last week to bring legal action to prevent the surgery. The Pro-Life Alliance lodged an appeal at the High Court to have the official solicitor Laurence Oates removed as Mary's guardian, with Bruno Quintavalle, director of the Pro-Life Alliance, putting himself forward to act on her behalf. If the case had been won, the Court of Appeal's ruling that the operation should go ahead could have been challenged. The application was however swiftly rejected.

From the start, in making their objections to the proposed separation of the twins, anti-choice organisations have emphasised that they support the right of the parents to decide what should happen to the twins. However, their recent antics at the High Court demonstrate their commitment to parents' rights only extends to instances where parents agree with their 'pro-life' stance.

In making the case that he should represent Mary, Quintavalle in fact went entirely against the parents wishes, since the parents had made the decision, following the previous High Court ruling in favour of separating the twins, that the operation should go ahead. This raise the question asked by Christa Ackroyd in the Sunday Express:

The parents didn't want the appeal, neither did the lawyer appointed to protect their interests. So what made an outsider think he had the god-given right to interfere?

It could certainly be argued that, in the face of opposition on the part of hospital doctors and High Court judges to their wishes, the parents had little choice but to accept the ruling made earlier in the year. Nontheless, to still return to the Court, without the consent of the parents, demonstrates that just like the lawyers and the doctors who have made the decisions about what should happen, the Pro-Life Alliance is perfectly prepared to disregard the parents feelings and opinions, and interfere.

It is unfortunate that in the course of the debate about the twins, the argument for the parents being able to decide what should happen has been substantially monopolised by the anti-choice movement. As their opposition to abortion clearly demonstrates, the commitment on the part of such people to the notion that people should be granted the moral autonomy to make difficult decisions, is shallow indeed.

In the case of the twins however, even if many might have chosen a different path themselves, the idea that ultimately it should have been the parents of Jodie and Mary, not the doctors at St Mary's Hospital or High Court judges, to be given the responsibility of deciding what should happen, is a compelling one.

One of the few articles published this year to make a principled case for the parents being able to decide follows. Comment by Raanan Gillon, professor of medical ethics at Imperial College London, also in favour of letting the parents decide, can be found on the BBC website at:http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/health/newsid_937000/937057.stm

Is subscribers would like to pursue this discussion, or have other articles to recommend, please reply to this e-mail address.

BBC News on-line, 'Move to halt Siamese twins op' Christ Ackroyd, Sunday Express, 6 November 2000 'Surgeons will separate Siamese twins today', 6 November 2000

The Times 11 September 2000
Mick Hume

The question is not how judges should rule on Jodie and Mary, but why

The affair of Jodie and Mary is no longer a medical case of doctors separating Siamese twins. It has been turned into a legal case of judges separating parents from their children in a public dissection.

The case resumes in the Court of Appeal this week, where three Lords Justices of Appeal will decide whether to uphold the original decision that the operation to separate the twins, designed to save Jodie by sacrificing Mary, should go ahead against the parents' wishes. Everybody seems to have an opinion as to which way Lord Justice Ward and his colleagues should turn their thumbs. Yet too few have asked the more fundamental question: why should it be any of their business? From where did the Court of Appeal judges acquire the authority to dictate the fate of these babies?

Never mind the new powers promised them under the Human Rights Act, it appears that the judges of England have already taken upon themselves the right to act like God.

The parents insist that it cannot be God's will for one of their children to die so that the other might survive. I share none of their religious principles, and have nothing but contempt for the misnamed "Right-to-Life" groups and Italian cardinals who are trying to make political mileage out of their personal tragedy. But as one who hopes to raise his children in a secular and free society, I am far more alarmed by the tone of papal infallibility in Lord Justice Ward's declaration that "it was not God's will" that the weaker twin should survive.

The decision over whether to operate or not should rest with the parents, not with the Church, the State, the judges or even the doctors. The twins' mother and father are the ones who will have to live with the consequences of that decision for the rest of their lives. We have heard all about the sleepless nights that this case is causing the judges. (Is there now no public figure capable of keeping his feelings to himself?) But at the end of it, the judges, lawyers and expert witnesses can go home to their own families and forget about Jodie and Mary. That option is not open to the parents. They face the prospect of losing both children, or perhaps being left with one badly disabled baby that they have to abandon in England when they return to their impoverished remote European home. Nobody would want to be in their shoes as parents. Nobody should try to step into their place as guardians.

In his original High Court decision, Mr Justice Johnson overruled the parents' wishes on the ground that they were "too overwhelmed" to do what was best for their babies. Supporting the judge, Baroness Warnock, author of the modestly titled An Intelligent Person's Guide to Morals, announced that it simply was not possible for the "traumatised" mother to make a "sensible long-term decision". The sensible, dispassionate experts would have to do it for her.

Since when was it a problem for parents to be emotionally involved with their children? Of course these people were "overwhelmed" by the tragedy engulfing their family. But the intensity of their pain should be taken as a sign of commitment, not incompetence. It is the emotional intimacy between parent and child, the love that the mother and father have invested in Jodie and Mary, that means they are best placed to make the decision. Instead we are faced with a consensus that "emotional" parents cannot be trusted to do what's right for their offspring, so bring on Lady Warnock and Lord Justice Ward. The precedent set could have frightening implications for the future of family life.

For a decade now, English family law has held, as Mr Justice Johnson told the parents, that "the interests of the child are paramount". That sounds like common sense, but in some ways it is the nub of the problem here. A legal framework has been established in which it appears to be assumed that a conflict of interest exists between parent and child, so that the authorities must have extra powers to intervene on the child's behalf. The accelerating trend towards making matters of private morality the subject of public policy has brought us to the tortuous courtroom circus surrounding Jodie and Mary.

If I were the father involved, I might well have wanted to follow the doctors' advice and consent to the operation. But who knows? All I can say for certain is that nobody cares about a child more than its parents. And if we are continually to be lectured about the need for responsible parenting, we should be allowed to take parental responsibility for those whom we love. As every parent knows, Mary and Jodie are not the only ones joined at the heart.


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