There was a famous case in the UK some years ago, of a pair of Siamese twins (not in the image above) joined at the waist and sharing a heart and lungs. By the nature of their condition, only one of the pair – the one with the fully developed heart – could survive an operation to separate them. Doctors insisted that the girls be separated, because both would die within three to six months if nothing was done. The heart of the one of the twins could not go on to support both of them forever.
The parents, however, refused to go through with the operation, claiming that they could not save one of their children by killing her sister. They wanted nature and God’s will to take its course. The doctors challenged the parents’ decision, claiming inaction meant death for both girls. The case went to the courts and a judge ruled in favor of the doctors. The operation went ahead and, predictably, one of the girls died. The other one now leads a healthy life.
One of the judges deciding the case even stated that an operation to save the most viable of the pair – the one with the fully developed heart – would also be in the interest of the other girl. This other girl’s life would be hurtful and short anyway and to prolong it would be “very seriously to her disadvantage”. Killing her would not be an act, but an omission – the interruption or withdrawal of the supply of blood
which she received from her sister. As such, the surgery could go ahead by analogy with those cases where the courts have authorized the withholding of food and hydration. Ultimately, however, this reasoning wasn’t followed by the court when upholding the decision to operate. (source)
This is reminiscent of the trolley problem, a famous moral dilemma in which people are asked if they would push a fat man on a track in order to stop a runaway trolley or tram heading for a group of five people unaware of the danger. When you answer the question below, you should know that in most surveys about the trolley problem, people refuse to push the fat man. We also had another dilemma in this series that featured a similar problem: should a surgeon sacrifice some innocent people in order to harvest organ for a dying patient?
And you can still vote on our previous moral dilemmas here.