The bioethics of separating conjoined twins in plastic surgery

Michelle Lee*, Arun K. Gosain, Devra Becker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The incidence of craniopagus twins approximates four to six per 10 million births. Although rare, surgical separation of conjoined twins poses significant technical and ethical challenges. The present report uses the case of craniopagus twins AD and TD to examine the bioethical issues faced by a multidisciplinary medical team in planning the separation of craniopagus twins. AD and TD are craniopagus twins conjoined at the head. TD's head is conjoined to the back of AD's head. Neurologically, AD has the dominant cerebral circulation. TD has two normal kidneys, whereas AD has none. AD depends on TD's renal function and, on separation, will require either a kidney transplant or lifelong dialysis. This case report reviews one approach to analyzing and solving complex ethical dilemmas in pediatric plastic surgery. The principles reviewed are (1) autonomy and informed consent, focusing especially on the role of children in the informed consent process; (2) beneficence and nonmaleficence, two intricately intertwined principles because separation could potentially cause irreversible harm to one twin while improving the quality of life for the other (as separation is not a life-saving procedure, is it ethical to perform a procedure with unknown surgical risk to improve children's quality of life?); and (3) justice (is it fair to allocate excessive medical resources for the twins' separation?). The present report explores the ethics behind such decisions with respect to the separation of conjoined twins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPlastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


Dive into the research topics of 'The bioethics of separating conjoined twins in plastic surgery'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this