The Daily Mail recently published a complex piece on Gracie Attard, a Siamese twin who lived, while her twin, Rosie, died.
The girls were born August 8, 2000 at a Manchester hospital to Maltese parents Michael and Rina Attard. They were born via Caesarean section while their mother was asleep, and who afterward was too distraught to look at her daughters until two days later. The girls were conjoined at the end and shared an aorta, bladder and circulatory systems. Their legs were at awkward right angles as well from how they were connected.
While Gracie was doing well, Rosie was not. She was alive because Gracie’s heart was pumping blood into hers. The doctors believed that if the twins were not separated, both would die. Doing so would most certainly kill Rosie, however.
And so the Attards found themselves in quite the moral and ethical dilemma, one in which the courts had to intervene.
In the end, after the Attards were overruled in their decision by the Three Appeal Court to not separate the twins and leave it up to God, a complex 20 hour surgery was performed to separate them. Sure enough, Rosie died.
But while Rosie died, Gracie lived and even surpassed optimistic expectations that she would thrive. She is walking, as was the hope of surgeons after her legs were broken and re-set, and wishes to become a doctor.
The issue of whether to separate the conjoined twins is certainly a dilemma, and amounted to “an ethical debate that gripped the world.” It is perhaps most complex for Gracie though. The young teen seems to have a clear head on her shoulders about the matter, however:
Gracie has never spoken before. She has neither given her views on her origins nor disclosed how she felt when she learned her sister had died so she could live. The questions are complex and challenging.
But now — a bright teenager with a sharp, questioning mind and strong, cogently expressed views — she’s talking exclusively to the Mail at the home on the Maltese island of Gozo she shares with her parents and 12-year-old sister, also called Rosie in memory of her dead sister.
‘I wish baby Rosie was here, obviously, but she died when I was tiny so I don’t have any memory of her,’ says Gracie.
‘I don’t feel guilty that I lived and she died because what happened wasn’t my decision. I haven’t cried, but there is sadness. Sometimes I want her to be with me. We were the same age. We’d probably think like each other.
‘Sometimes when I need someone to help me, say when I’m taking an exam, I’ll say in my head: “Help me, my little sister.” Because that’s what sisters do. They help each other, don’t they? And I’ve thought: “Would she look like me? Would we share the same interests?” ’
Gracie has learned — via the internet, and perhaps earlier than her parents would have wished — about the moral debate provoked by her birth; about the vexed questions her parents faced.
‘I understand how difficult it must have been for Mum and Dad,’ she says. ‘I think I’d have died if we hadn’t been separated — and I’m alive. I thank God for that. I don’t think too much about what might have been. The best is here. I just think of myself as very lucky.’
If Gracie’s approach is mature, considered, forensic, it is because she has the mind of a scientist.
Her favourite subjects are chemistry and biology. She corresponds regularly by email with one of the surgeons, Adrian Bianchi — also Maltese and a Catholic — involved in the operation to separate her from her twin.
The piece mentions that the Attards, being “…devout Catholics, they had never considered aborting the twins when scans revealed they were conjoined. They could not, therefore, bring themselves to allow one to die to save the other.”
And while the birth of the twins was a bittersweet situation for both parents, they came to see their children as children:
Michael, gentle and quietly spoken, swiftly saw beyond the twins’ physical abnormality, and love consumed him.
‘I went to look at them two hours after they were born,’ he says. ‘They were covered in a blanket. I didn’t see the extent of their problems. Then I went again, and again. After a while, you just start seeing them as two normal babies. You get used to how they are. I washed them every morning. I talked to them and Gracie seemed to respond.
Michael and Rina dutifully fulfilled their role as loving parents and devout Catholics. Michael coached his wife into how to approach their daughters, and abortion was never considered. The two turned towards their faith in God and it was the courts, not the parents, who ordered that the twins be separated.
In many ways, it was out of their hands. Perhaps this was the sign from God which they needed. The surgery was not performed with the direct intent to end the life of Rosie, but to save the life of her sister, Gracie. And through it all, Gracie was never treated any less than a human being, who was permitted to live outside her mother’s womb before her death, something which we all should have the right to.