Separating Conjoined Twins: A Medical and Criminal Law Dilemma
Journal of Law and Medicine 2010 February; 17(4): 594-607
Surgical separation of conjoined twins that results in the death of one of the twins raises complex moral, ethical and legal issues. Of particular concern is the potential for homicide charges against doctors. In two recent cases, one in England and one in Queensland, judges declared the surgery to be lawful but the legal reasoning employed is problematical and may be difficult to apply to future conjoined twins cases, such as infant twins where one is not fully developed, or where it is proposed to separate adult twins. A determination of the threshold issue of whether there are two individual persons capable of being killed may require a reconsideration of existing legal definitions and statutory provisions. Similarly, the excuses and justifications for homicide may need to be clarified or reviewed in the context of separation of conjoined twins.
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