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Cardinal meets surviving Siamese twin in Malta

posted on 26 October 2004
The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, last week embraced 'Jodie', the conjoined twin who survived a dramatic operation in November 2000 to separate her from her sister 'Mary'. The operation caused the death of the weaker twin.

Doctors at the Manchester hospital where the six-week-old girls had been born argued that without the operation both twins would die. The twins' parents, Michaelangelo and Rina Attard, Catholics from the Maltese island of Gozo, opposed the operation, arguing that God's will should take its course. After the High Court found in the doctors' favour, the parents appealed.

The Appeal Court hearing centred on whether it was licit to undertake an operation to save the life of the stronger twin by ending the life of the weaker one. One of the three law lords who considered the case said they were being asked to decide, 'Do we save Jodie by murdering Mary?'

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor made a submission to the Appeal Court in support of the parents with a series of arguments from the Catholic moral tradition. He said he believed the doctrines of double effect and lesser evil did not apply in the case of the twins. The submission was welcomed by the Law Lords.

The Cardinal asked to meet the Attards on his arrival in Gozo, where he was attending the final day of the International Convention of Priests. The meeting took place on Friday last week at the holy shrine of Ta'Pinu, where an open-air Mass was held. After Mass the Cardinal met the Attards in the sacristy, where he embraced four-year-old Gracie - named 'Jodie' during the court cases - and conversed with her parents. The Cardinal later said he had wanted to meet them because they had suffered enormously at the time.

The Cardinal this week said he stood by the arguments he had made at the time. He said he felt the instinct of the mother had been ignored in the debates over the rights and wrongs of the operation. The purpose of his submission had not been to stop the operation but in order to clarify the moral arguments involved, he added.

'I'm glad the subject was debated in such thoroughness', he said this week. 'There was a strong ethical case on both sides, and I am glad that the court took into consideration arguments from the Catholic moral tradition.'

1) The doctrine of double effect holds that if a morally good action has a morally bad side-effect it is licit as long as the bad side-effect was unintended. The cardinal argued that because the death of the weaker twin was the intended outcome of the operation, and necessary to the other's survival, the doctrine did not apply in this case.
2) The cardinal was invited to address the International Congress of Catholic Priests, a five-day meeting of more than 1,000 priests from 283 dioceses from 81 countries. The Congress was called by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy.

Contact Details:
Austen Ivereigh
Telephone: 020 7798 9045 or 07905 224860
posted on 26 October 2004

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