In a landmark case, the British Court of Appeal has decided unanimously to permit the separation of conjoined twins, an operation that will kill one in the hope of saving the other. The court overruled the wishes of the parents who were in favor of letting "God decide."

The parents can appeal to the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights. The courts will have little time to act, however, if they are to save the stronger twin, known as Jodie. Unless there is an operation, the twins, who were born in August, have just three to six months to live. Doctors say, though, that even an operation will not guarantee Jodie's survival.

The senior judge, Lord Justice Alan Ward, summed up the dilemma after making the historic ruling on Friday: "Do you kill one to save two, or do you let two die? Nothing could be more stark than that." But the judge denied that an operation would violate the sanctity of human life, describing it instead as "doctors coming to Jodie's defense."

The twins' real names have been withheld to protect their identities, but the court has said it can now be known that the parents, who are Catholics, come from the Maltese Island of Gozo. On their island, where most attend Mass and abortion is illegal, Father Emmanuel Curmi echoed the parents' views: "Life is in the hands of God."

Jodie has been described as the "life support machine" of her twin sister, dubbed Mary. Summing up, Ward said: "Mary is alive only because she sucks the lifeblood of Jodie. Her parasitic living will soon be the cause of her sister's death." Jodie has the twins' only heart and lungs and is supplying oxygenated blood to Mary, who is putting on weight at Jodie's expense. The court had to decide whether to leave it to nature, as the ...

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