Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point: Forum
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Friday, 22 September, 2000, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Legal expert on the Siamese twins case
Allan Levy QC
On Friday, three Appeal Court judges ruled that Siamese twins Jodie and Mary should have an operation to separate them.

If the operation goes ahead, Mary will die, but Jodie will have the chance of living. If it does not, it is likely that both will die, possibly within months.

It is a tragic and emotive case which has divided opinions both inside and outside the legal world.

The twins' parents, devout Catholics, fiercely oppose the operation.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:


Allan Levy QC, one of the UK's leading child law experts, answered questions from BBC News Online readers straight after the verdict.

James Andrews, a student from Birmingham, UK, asked whether the twins case had exposed a "fundamental hole" in British law by showing that it is not equipped to deal with cases involving the ending of a life

"I don't think that's so - I think that courts have been dealing with cases that involve the ending of lives, or the possible ending of lives, for many years.

"There have been case, both, to some extent in the criminal law, when we had the death penalty, and also in the civil law.

"The difference is that there has not been the double problem of the co-joined twins - but we have had cases of blood transfusions, in which the child would die if it is not received, and also force feeding.

"I do think that the court is well equipped and has the experience to deal with these."

Melvin See, from Singapore, asked why such a difficult case could not simply be sent directly to the House of Lords.

"In principle I agree that this was a quintessential House of Lords case, but the system at present is that you have to go up the legal step-ladder.

"One reform in the future might be for a case of this kind to be heard by a judge at first instance, who hears the evidence and recognises that the issues are so difficult that it could go straight to the House of Lords.

"This would of course save a great deal of stress - particularly for the parents."

Simon Serge emailed from Malta, close to the family's home on the island of Gozo. He asked whether the couple were now barred from moving the twins out of the UK to a country in which their religious views would be "properly respected".

"The answer to that is yes they are. If the decision at the House of Lords is for the operation still to go ahead, then the operation will go ahead.

"But afterwards, if they want to take Jodie out of the country, they, I am sure, will be able to."

Chris Hayes, from the UK, asked why the decision of the parents against an operation did not end the matter. Why, he asked, were their wishes not "carried out with dignity"?

"It couldn't happen because the courts have always had a jurisdiction which permits an interested party to go to the court to say: 'Look at the best interests of the child.'

"It only happens in the most extreme cases. In the past there have been cases where, for religious reasons, parents didn't want their children to have a blood transfusion, which, if they didn't have, would mean death.

"Most people thought that the child should be saved - therefore the only person who could order it was the court."

Joshua White, from the UK, asks what the law would have achieved if both of the children eventually die following an operation.

"One can't predict precisely what will happen. All the doctors and judges can do is act on what's reasonably probable.

"Tragedy, I suppose, in a case like this, is always just around the corner."

Sarah Spencer, from Rotherham in the UK, is concerned about a clash between Christianity and British law in the case. She asks how such an impasse could have been resolved.

"I'm not sure I agree with it being put in such dramatic terms, and Christianity has different areas to it.

"It's true that the Archbishop of Westminster has put his particular view forward - but the court always considers all the options and has given very very great weight to the parents' religious views."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

Links to other Forum stories