LONDON, Sept. 14 (AP)--Siamese twins at the heart of a legal battle between doctors and the babies' parents may not be doomed to die within months, a lawyer for the parents told an appeals court Thursday.

The parents, who are Roman Catholics from an unidentified European country, oppose the operation and have appealed a lower-court decision in favor of surgery.

The twins, joined at the lower abdomen, were born August 8 at St. Mary's Hospital in Manchester.

Doctors at the hospital believe both girls will die within six months if they are not separated, but that one--identified as Jodie--could survive on her own. The less-developed twin, Mary, could not survive separation, doctors say.

Simon Taylor, counsel for the parents, said a cardiologist from London who examined the twins thought there was at least a 10% to 20% chance that the children could survive more than six months.

A surgeon also thought the twins could live together many months, perhaps even a few years, Taylor told the three judges hearing the appeal.

"I'm aware that that raises a horrible spectre of survival going into years--God knows how many years--but it exists," he said.

Lord Justice Alan Ward commented that these opinions were "pretty vague," but Taylor said he raised them only because of the repeated assertion that the weaker twin would die in any case.

The ProLife Alliance, which campaigns against abortion and euthanasia, informed the court in a written submission that it had offered the parents a "safe haven" in Italy for the family. The group's attorney, David Anderson, said the parents might consider leaving Britain if they lose their appeal.

Anderson also argued that permitting an operation to separate the twins--knowing that Mary would die as a result--would violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

Article 2 of the human rights convention guarantees the right to life and declares that "no one shall be deprived of life intentionally," save in the case of a criminal ordered to be executed under due process of law, Anderson said.

Thus, "to perform an operation whose consequence is acknowledged to be Mary's death--whether or not it is judged to be murder as a matter of English law--will be an intentional deprivation of life."

Tim Owen, an attorney appointed to represent Jodie, argued that the convention included an obligation to protect life, and would not rule out the operation.

The Roman Catholic archbishop of England and Wales, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, submitted written arguments supporting the parents.

"Mary's right to life should be respected because (a) she possesses the same basic worth and dignity which belongs to every human being, and (b) she has done nothing which could justify killing her," the archbishop said.

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