Hazel McHaffie

conjoined rwins

Malta – holiday destination and ethical hotspot

Phew, I’ve just this evening returned from eleven nights on the island of Malta. Which is why my blog post is late this week. We’ve been on the return journey since the equivalent of 4.45 am so excuse lack of brio.

Anyway, I’ll give it a whirl. There I was, basking in temperatures in the twenties, letting my imagination run riot, happily scribbling a novel in my head. The amazingly history of Malta offers a richly colourful context, so I had this as my basic tapestry. Good start. My characters were soon escaping down the mysterious winding streets between these lovely honey-coloured stone walls … honey coloured stoneracing up the endless flights of steps …stepped streetscommandeering a passing horse-drawn carriage …passing carriagesdodging pursuers in the night-time shrubbery …statues at nightfleeing across the incredible turquoise Mediterranean Sea …The blue seaAnd then … ahah! In gift shops and airports and bookstores what did I find? Rows of novels all set in Malta.novels about Malta Joanna Trollope, Nicholas Monsarrat – oh, lots of different authors have jumped on this bandwagon already. And no wonder. The whole place cries out to be written about. So no mileage there. Best to just relax and have a real holiday.

But I held one trump card. A most unusual highlight just for me. I could actually set foot on the nearby island of Gozo. And there I met a lovely lady in a Maltese lace shop (pictured below) who knew the family at the centre of a huge ethical debate some eleven years ago when I was still working at the University. A case I followed very closely.

Michaelangelo and Rina Attard’s twin daughters were born conjoined, fused at the spine and abdomen. A British surgeon heard about their condition on a visit to Malta and wanted to help. A huge debate followed his intervention. The Roman Catholic church (which is the predominant religion on Gozo) strongly opposed the babies’ separation, believing such matters were best left in the hands of God. The parents were Catholics and followed this line too. But doctors and lawyers disagreed. A high profile court case ensued. The issues revolved around whether or not it was acceptable to save the life of one child at the expense of the other; and whether it was permissible to act against the parents’ wishes.

To cut a long story short, the girls were eventually separated here in Britain at the age of three months – exactly eleven years ago this November. One twin, Rosie, died in the process, but the survivor, Gracie, went back to this tiny Maltese island with its strong religious ethic, and is apparently still doing well, her neighbour told me.Lace Shop in GozoAfter all the hours spent thinking and talking and writing about this controversy back in 2000, it was a real thrill to listen to this lady in Gozo, in this very lace shop, telling me what she thought of the decision and the church’s stance. And to be just a few roads away from where the Attard family still live. A bit like standing on holy ground!

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