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British Court Rules Conjoined Twins Can Be Separated

Aired September 22, 2000 - 10:08 a.m. ET

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

KAGAN: As we reported a few minutes ago, a court in Britain has decided that the surgery to separate a pair of conjoined twins is, indeed, legal.

For more on that, let's bring in our Christiane Amanpour, who is covering the story for us from London -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in the last few minutes, a three-panel court of appeals here unanimously decided that they would dismiss the appeal from the parents of these two conjoined twins and they would not allow the parents' wishes to be heard in this particular instance, and thus perhaps leave the door open for surgery to be performed and for these two conjoined twins, otherwise known at Siamese twins, to be separated.

Now, background to this, as you know, is that six weeks ago, two twin girls were born here in England. They are conjoined at the lower abdomen. They have legs that go out at right angles to their body. It has been declared by doctors that one of them, called by the court "Jodie," is stronger, has a functioning heart, lungs, blood circulation system. The other one is weaker and does not have the functioning circulatory system to stay alive.

Surgery would inevitably and definitely and certainly, according to all the experts, lead to the death of Mary. This was the dilemma: Would the court rule that you could intervene surgically to save the life of one child, knowing that you would be killing the other child?

In this case, the court has said, yes, it can be possible because they have had to weigh, as Justice Ward said, the key speaker in this panel of justices, they have had to weigh the best interest of Jodie, who can sustain, according to experts, a relatively normal life, or at least in their words a not intolerable life, and the interests of Mary who could never sustain life without, as the justice said, sucking the blood from her sister Jodie. He called her life right now a parasitic life, and that it always destined to expire, either before birth or shortly afterwards.

So he then had to say how he could -- They had to decide how they could come down in favor, when there was such a conflict over best interest of each child. And then, once they decided that, whether it was lawful to perform an operation which would kill one child. And he has decided in this case that it is lawful, that it is legal, and that this, in fact, in his words, sets a precedent. This is a unique case, said the justice in this case -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Christiane, the parents all along, the reason this ended up in court, the parents all along have said they don't want the surgery, that they are devout Catholics. Do they have any other appeal options at this point?

AMANPOUR: Yes, they do. They can go to the House of Lords here in England, or they could, after that, carry on to European Court of Appeal.

However, in his judgment today, Justice Ward, the main judge, said that he felt strongly that he has taken into account everything the House of Lords has ruled on in the past. And that the House of Lords would not make a judgment different to his judgment, and that he felt also that his judgment was compatible with what the European Court of Human Right would do.

He said that it was the most tragic and painful decision that he had ever been involved on. He said that in this case the courts have been caught on what he called "the sharp horns of a dilemma." And he has constantly, throughout this case, really told people that he had sleepless nights, that this has been a really, really terrible case for these judges to have to decide on.

But, in their mind, it is absolutely clear that they should come down in favor of the best interest of the child who can live.

KAGAN: Christiane Amanpour, in London, thank you very much.

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