BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The uncertainty is over"
 real 56k

Dr Richard Nicholson, Bulletin of Medical Ethics
"It seems to me that the law is still unclear"
 real 28k

Friday, 29 September, 2000, 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK
Solicitor's 'agony' over twins decision
jodie and mary
Jodie and Mary are now seven weeks old
The solicitor acting for Mary, the Siamese twin, who will die if doctors operate to separate her and her sister, has defended his decision not to lodge an appeal.

Laurence Oates, the Official Solicitor, said he had agonised over the decision on whether to appeal last week's Court of Appeal ruling to allow the operation to go ahead.

On Thursday, the parents of Jodie and Mary said they were unable to continue their legal battle, leaving doctors free to carry out surgery to separate the twins.

Mr Oates rejected criticism that he had set "a dangerous precedent" by failing to appeal last week's ruling.

This is a very unique case. I certainly don't believe that it sets a precedent

Laurence Oates, Official Solicitor

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "In this instance I have had to take an agonising decision of my own.

"This is a very unique case. I certainly don't believe that it sets a precedent undermining the sanctity of life or indeed in the belief that all life has equal value.

"The unique facts of this case are such that I'm quite sure it doesn't set a dangerous precedent."


Doctors at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester where the girls were born seven weeks ago said on Thursday they had no immediate plans to carry out the operation.

A spokesman added: "Both the medical team and hospital management team will continue to liase very closely with the parents and no further action will be taken without their explicit knowledge."

The operation, which could last as long as 18 hours and involve 22 different doctors, will effectively condemn Mary, the weaker of the two, to death.

But if the two were to remain joined experts say they would both die, possibly within months.

The parents' lawyer John Kitchingman said on Thursday that they were unable to continue their legal battle and had decided against making an appeal to the House of Lords.

"The parents, having taken this case to two courts before four judges, whose decision was unanimous, feel that they have done the best they can for both daughters and are unable to take this any further," he said in a statement.

'Leave the UK'

Pro-life groups have urged the parents to leave the UK with their children. There are no legal restrictions to force the family to remain in the country.

Bruno Quintevalle, from the Pro-life Alliance, told the BBC: "We would not advise the parents to appeal the decision. because it's just going to put them under even more stress and trauma.

"They should simply remove their children from the hospital and leave the country. This is what we have been advising them to do. There are no effective legal obstacles to prevent them from doing this."

The Court of Appeal ruled on Friday that an operation to separate the seven-week-old girls could go ahead.

Gozo map
The family come from the island of Gozo
The three judges who delivered the unanimous ruling left open the opportunity for an appeal to the House of Lords.

The parents, devout Roman Catholics from the island of Gozo, near Malta, believe the fate of the twins is "God's will" and had been opposed to interference.

The cost of the twins' treatment is being funded by the NHS in a reciprocal agreement between the British and Maltese Governments.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

22 Sep 00 | Health
Siamese twins to be separated
22 Sep 00 | Health
Judge: An excruciating decision
22 Sep 00 | Health
Siamese twins: The reaction
22 Sep 00 | Health
Siamese twins: The judgement
22 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Court approves blood transfusion
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories