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Europe Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Conjoined twins: Challenge to ethics
The funeral, in Gozo, of conjoined twin, Mary Attard
The funeral, in Gozo, of conjoined twin, Mary Attard
Edward Stourton explores how religous faith was pitted against science and secular law in the story of Jodie and Mary, the conjoined twins born in Manchester last year.

Doctors knew that if they operated to separate the twins, Mary would die. A legal battle ensued, and as a senior judge confessed to sleepless nights, the moral waters became murkier and murkier.


Everyone has the right to life

Charter of Fundamental Rights
Could Mary's rights really be subordinated to those of her sister so completely? What does "the right to life" mean in a context like this?

What of the parents' right to make decisions about their children? And how should those be weighed against the judgement of the courts?

I interviewed a senior Anglican bishop on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, in the very early days of the controversy, and asked him whether the case had shaken his faith in God; how could and all-loving, all-powerful being expect parents to make a choice as agonising as the one which faced the Attards?

Religious conviction

It took time for details of the family involved to become public - even the fact that they came from the island of Gozo in the Mediterranean was concealed at first - but as more and more about them emerged it became apparent that they saw things very differently.

The Attards' objections to the operation to separate their daughters was based on deeply felt religious conviction.

And in the British media the case was to a degree treated as a clash between two sets of values; religious faith on one side, science and the secular law on the other.

Burial

We travelled to Gozo on the day the island's community buried Mary, the twin who died. It was like stepping into the cultural equivalent of some delicate and vulnerable eco-system struggling to survive in the face of the advance of the modern world.

Malta is a small community which has clung to its Catholic identity to an extraordinary degree - partly because of its island status, partly because of a long and deeply-felt Christian history which began with St Paul's landing on the island on his way to Rome.

Gozo

Monsignor Eucharist Sultana, Parish Priest
Gozo is even smaller, and as you cross on the ferry, you travel back several decades in cultural time. The town of Xhara is dominated by a magnificent 19th century church - a late baroque confection of sandstone and marble, every cherub and reliquary polished to perfection by the army of church helpers.

Mary's funeral service there was conducted with all the consoling majesty that the Catholic Church can offer on such occasions, and her grave was designated as a shrine to the victims of abortion.

Faith in God is universal

We spent the days that followed with the parish priest - the gloriously named Monsignor Eucharist Sultana - and Anthony Attard - brother-in-law to Mary and Jodie's father, and mayor of the town.


It gave us a glimpse into a world that has largely disappeared

It gave us a glimpse into a world which has largely disappeared in Europe; one in which faith in God is almost universal.

The idea that the advances of science should be tested against His unchanging laws is non-controversial, and for many people Jodie and Mary's story was a defiant symbol of their determination to resist the tide of secularism which has swept over so much of the world outside.


They have conquered because they have shown the world that life is only in God's hands

Anthony Attard:
"You can say they were defeated", says Anthony Attard of his brother and sister in law, "but they have conquered because they have shown the world that life is only in God's hands."

Ambulance to the future:
1920 GMT, Sunday 15th April on BBC 2.

Reporter: Edward Stourton
Producer: Louise Adamson
Executive Producer: Farah Durrani
Series Producer: Kate Snell

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