One into two will not go: conceptualising conjoined twins

Journal of Medical Ethics 30 (3):279-285 (2004)
Abstract
This paper is written in response to controversial judicial decisions following separation surgery on conjoined twins “Jodie” and “Mary”. The courts, it is argued, seem to have conceptualised the twins as “entangled singletons” requiring medical intervention to render them physically separate and thus “as they were meant to be”, notwithstanding the death of the weaker twin, “Mary”. In contrast, we argue that certain notions, philosophical and biological, of what human beings are intended to be, are problematic. We consider three compelling conceptualisations of conjoined twins and advocate a model that conceives them as two psychologically separate individuals who happen to share a body, the sharing of a body being integral to the individuality of each twin. While we reject an “essentialist” view of the conjoined state, a view which might render separation surgery unthinkable in all cases, we nevertheless argue against an “adversarial” interpretation of conjoined twins’ respective best interests. We maintain that the physical entanglement should be regarded as a shared problem rather than one posed by one twin to the other. And if, after deliberation, separation surgery is deemed the “least detrimental alternative” or the “lesser of two evils”, then there should be recognition of what conjoined twins will lose, as well as gain, through separation. The current drive to separate twins at all costs may evince a deeper unease with bodily configurations that appear to threaten the premium that the Western ethical and legal tradition places on personal sovereignty, and the physical circumscription that such sovereignty assumes
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