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Church moralists question fatal conjoined twins operation

The Vatican's health minister has criticised doctors who tried unsuccessfully to separate the two Iranian conjoined twins, stressing that the fatal operation was not medically necessary.

Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragan, whose official title is President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, told the Italian daily La Repubblica that "the surgery should not have been done."

"It was a mistake," he said. "And the cost was the highest possible - two human lives."

The Iranian twins, who had been joined at the head at birth, had been aware that the surgery would be extremely risky. But the 29-year-old women asked doctors to perform the operation nevertheless. Archbishop Barragan argued that surgeons should have refused to perform such a procedure.

Barragan stressed that he did not want to make a "superficial condemnation" of the procedure, which was attempted at a hospital in Singapore. He added that all observers are "profoundly desolated" by the results. But he insisted, "when a human life is at risk, there can never be too much questioning about the process."

However Rome-based moral theologian Fr Joseph Gallagher disagreed with Archbishop Barragan.

Expressing admiration for the courage shown by the two women, he said: "From the moral point of view, it seems to me that the operation did not create ethical problems."

Catholic World News

Prayers held for conjoined twins (BBC)
A Social History of Conjoined Twins
Iranian Twins Mourned After Surgery, Debate Rages (Reuters)
Doctors reject claims they acted unethically (The Guardian)
Mourning the loss of the twins (BBC)

10 Jul 2003