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The Court of Appeal ruled today that doctors may operate to separate Siamese twin girls, against the wishes of the parents who were determined to submit to "God's will."

The panel of three judges voted unanimously to allow the separation to go ahead, backing an earlier High Court ruling.

Doctors said both girls, identified only as Jodie and Mary, will die within months if they remain together but added that if they were separated, Jodie could survive on her own, while Mary, who depends entirely on Jodie for her blood, would die.

"The scales come down heavily in Jodie's favor," said Lord Justice Ward. "(Mary) sucks the life blood of Jodie, and her passive living will soon be the cause of Jodie ceasing to live."

The twins, joined at the lower abdomen, were born Aug. 8 in St. Mary's Hospital in Manchester. Two medical specialists appointed by the court to review the case endorsed using surgery to separate them.

The parents, identified only as Catholics from the Mediterranean island of Gozo, Malta, appealed a lower court ruling in favor of surgery. They were supported by Catholic Archbishop Cormac Murphy O'Connor of Westminster.

Their lawyers were granted leave to appeal today's ruling. They had said earlier that if the Court of Appeal ruled against them, they would consider appealing to Britain's House of Lords and to the European Court of Human Rights.

During hearings earlier this month, Tim Owen, a lawyer appointed to represent Jodie's interest, argued that Mary had no chance of long-term survival and that it was "unreal" to consider Mary's interests separately from those of Jodie.

"Without Jodie, Mary will die. With Mary, Jodie will die," Owen said. "The purpose of the operation is wholly to maintain life and not to accelerate death by mercy killing or otherwise."

David Harris, a lawyer appointed to represent Mary, argued that she had an interest in continuing her life unless proven otherwise.

"Although this is a life of short duration and very severely handicapped, there is insufficient evidence that it is so intolerable as to render it in the child's best interests that it should end," he said.

The parents, in a statement read in court on Sept. 4, said they had come to England "to give our babies the very best chance for life in the very best place."

"Now things have gone very badly wrong, and we find ourselves in this very difficult situation," they said. "We believe that nature should take its course. If it's God's will that both our children should not survive, then so be it."

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