The parents of severely deformed Siamese twins were denied custody of the infants today. The state charged that the parents had asked their doctor to deny the babies food and water.
The decision, by Vermillion County Circuit Judge John P. Meyer, came after an emotional three-day custody hearing, in which nurses from the local hospital testified that the twin boys, who share lower body, intestinal tract, and three legs, did not, except when nurses broke the doctors' orders, receive any medical care or nourishment. One nurse testified that when she saw the babies fed, they were simply given a pacifier with sugar and water, to stop their crying.
Today, responding to a petition of neglect filed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Judge Meyer said that he was making no finding "in regard to neglect on the part of the natural parents." He also said that there was no doubt in his mind that "all parties involved thought they were doing the right thing."
"Anyone who has sat through this trial, unless they have a brick in place of a heart, must have compassion for all involved," he said.
But he also said that it was clear to him that a "no treatment, no food plan was instituted after the twins' birth" and that was clear violation of the law.
"The juvenile court does not make philosophical judgments," he said. ". . . the juvenile court must follow the Constitution of Illinois and the United States, each of which contains a Bill of Rights. These bills of rights give even to newborn Siamese twins with severe abnormalities the inalienable right to life. Has our society retrograded to the stage where we can say to a newborn abnormal child, 'You have no right to try to live with a little help from us?' I hope not and I think not, although the evidence in this case happens to contradict me."
The decision, in the Vermillion County Court House here, came late this afternoon shortly after an astonishing closing argument in which the court-appointed attorney for one Siamese twin, named Jeff, argued that the children had been neglected and should not be returned to the parents; and the attorney for the second twin, named Scott, argued that "the parents had evidenced for the babies" and that their future, at any rate, should not be a state matter.
"There is no clear legal path to be followed," argued the attorney for twin Scott, Jerry Davis, whose wife delivered their own permature son this morning. "It is not a legal question. It is a question to be decided by the family . . . There is a concern and love which comes from families which cannot be duplicated by others."
But the attorney for the second twin, Fred Underhill -- also a father -- took the opposite view. His argument caused the mother of the twins, seated in the courtroom and clutching her husband's hand, to fall on her husband's shoulder, sobbing loudly.
"Shouldn't we give the children, especially in view of modern medical technology, a chance?" he said. "The parents are in effect denying the children hope of achieving meaningful humanhood. Some may argue, isn't it merciful for the child to die. More merciful to whom? They exist as human beings, and they're entitled under the full protection of the law, to the most basic right -- the right to life."
The parents, a physician and a nurse at the Lakeview Medical Center here, Dr. Bob Mueller and his wife, Pam, had been charged by the Illinois Children and Family Services Bureau with willful neglect of the twins, who had been born May 5, at the hospital.
According to a petition of neglect, filed by the bureau May 15, the Muellers and their physician, Dr. Petra Warren -- who took the Fifth Amendment and did not appear in court -- ordered that the children receive no food or water and be given "palliative" care.
The orders apparently were followed. At the time of birth the infants weighed nine pounds, 12 ounces. By that time they were taken into protective custody by Family Services, they were down to slightly over six pounds.
They are currently at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital, under the custody of Family Services. The head of the neonatal department at Children's Memorial, Dr. Carl Hunt, had said that though the twins were in stable condition, they still have life-threatening problems. One of the twins has two holes in the heart and has trouble breathing; both must be fed intravenously. Hunt also testified that he knew of one case in which such twins, females, has been successfully separated.
In his decision today, Judge Meyer awarded custody of the twins to Family Services until July 1, when another hearing will be held. He also awarded the parents the right of unlimited visitation.
A grand jury is still investigating criminal charges in the case with a decision expected sometime next week.