London (CNSNews.com) - The parents of conjoined twins who were separated in a controversial operation in Britain a month ago, have spoken publicly for the first time.
Michelangelo and Rina Attard said they believe the surviving daughter instinctively feels the loss of the sister who died so that she could live, and the baby girl who was sacrificed at the order of a court, against her parents' wishes, would always be a part of their family.
The couple, from the Mediterranean island of Malta, will tell their story for the first time in a television interview on UK television Thursday night. Excerpts of the interview transcript were released early.
A court agreed this week that their identities may now be revealed, although a court order still prohibits media from approaching the hospital where the operation took place, and the girls are still to be known by their court-given names of Jodie and Mary.
The twins were born by cesarean section in Manchester last August and immediately became the subject of an emotional legal battle after the Attards, committed Roman Catholics, refused to give doctors permission to separate them.
Jodie and Mary were joined at the abdomen and shared one heart and pair of lungs. Doctors said failure to separate them would eventually kill both, while separation would give Jodie a better chance of survival, albeit at the cost of Mary's life.
The ensuing court cases saw the Catholic Church and pro-life activists argue in favor of the parents, but eventually appeal judges upheld an earlier High Court decision that surgery should go ahead. The 20-hour operation took place on November 6 and 7.
It was only once Mary had died - after surgeons cut the blood supply she and Jodie shared - that her parents were able to cuddle her, they told Grenada TV's Tonight program.
"It was good to hold her," said Michelangelo. "It was the first time we could cuddle her because she was always joined. Although she was dead, she was free at that time."
His wife recalled: "I wanted to see Mary straight away. I lifted her and cuddled her. She was dead, but I was happy that I was holding her."
Thursday's documentary will also for the first time show pictures of the surviving twin Jodie, who is said to be making good progress in hospital. A picture released ahead of the program shows a close-up view of the girl's tiny hand, tightly gripping her father's finger.
Rina said she believed Jodie was aware that Mary had died.
"She might notice that something is missing from her, that something has been separated from her, so she's holding our hands much, much stronger," Rina said.
Four-month-old Jodie will need to have many years of corrective surgery, but doctors are confident her chances of a bright future are good, and she may even have children of her own.
She is now feeding from a bottle, smiling and "talking." Her parents said her progress was encouraging.
"She is going to be a real fighter," her mother said.
The family is being paid more than $200,000 for tonight's exclusive interview, the money to be placed in a trust fund to help support Jodie and cover medical costs.
Michelangelo, 44, and Rina, 29, were married two years ago. They first discovered the twins they were expecting were conjoined when they had a scan at 14 weeks.
Last May, they moved to Britain to have the birth here, in line with a bilateral health agreement with Malta.
After the birth, the parents made their views clear, saying they believed it was not "God's will" that they intervene. Nature should be allowed to take its course.
"We have very strong feelings that neither of our children should receive any medical treatment," they said in a statement. "We certainly do not want separation surgery to go ahead as we know and have been told very clearly that it will result in the death of our daughter Mary."
The case caught the attention of the country, with ethicists, pro-lifers, churchmen and medical experts debating the issues raised. A judge said the case was giving him sleepless nights.
A Catholic leader and a pro-life political party were invited to make submissions to the court.
"The parents in this case have made clear that they love both their children equally, and cannot consent to one of them being killed to help the other," said Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. "I believe this moral instinct is right."
The Pro-Life Alliance argued among other things that Mary's right to life, protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, would be violated by the operation.
However, the courts eventually ruled against the parents' wishes, in a move one medical ethics expert said "quite clearly removed parental consent from these parents, and in my view quite illegitimately."
Several commentators said a dangerous legal precedent had been set. The end - the survival of Jodie - was seen to justify the means - the killing of Mary.
Sharing their harrowing ordeal, the Attards say they hope to return in time to their home on the small Maltese island of Gozo.
"We only think day by day," said Michelangelo. "But, hopefully, one day we will all go back together, taking Jodie with us - and Mary, because she is part of our family and will be close to us all the time.
"We still love them the same. They are both our daughters."