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Conjoined/Parasitic Twins

Conjoined twins, also known as "Siamese Twins" in honor of famous twins Chang and Eng Bunker, are extremely rare. Most do not survive until birth.Those who do tend to have skeletal problems related to the way that they are joined and the posture this forces them to assume. They may also have problems with shared or malformed organs.

Many famous conjoined twins went into show business, either in sideshows (Chang and Eng Bunker) or in Vaudeville (Daisy and Violet Hilton). Modern conjoined twins, such as the Hensel twins, occasionally may appear on talk shows, but no longer take up the carnival life because of laws against employing people with disabilities in such jobs. Conjoined twins, like all people, react individually to their situations; contrary to popular belief, not all conjoined twins desire to be separated.

A more common form of conjoined twinning is the parasitic twin, in which one twin is fairly normal and the other is underdeveloped. Again, for much of history these twins were in demand as "human oddities." Frank Lentini, whose parasitic twin manifested as a third leg, and Betty Lou Williams, who had an entire parasitic twin growing from her waist, are two of the most famous. With modern surgery, most parasitic twins are now removed surgically.

With modern surgical techniques, many parents choose to have conjoined twins separated. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop pioneered such surgery. Because of the risk that one or both twins will die, separation surgery is controversial. Those who favor the surgery argue that it gives the surviving child/children a greater chance for a normal life. Opponents argue that we should accept the children as they are and not risk their lives trying to make them fit our idea of "normalcy." Parents have to weigh the risks and benefits when deciding if their twins should be separated.

"Freaks" Teaches Pro Life Lesson
Conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton were among the many professional "human oddities" featured in Tod Browning's 1932 classic, Freaks. Joined at the hip, the Hilton Sisters were vaudeville musicians, playing the saxophone and singing beautifully. Their lovely voices alone are worth renting the 1950's flop, Chained for Life, based loosely on the lives of the Hilton twins.

Surgery to separate conjoined twins is typically performed in infancy and occasionally on toddlers. It is considered too risky to attempt to separate older children or adults.

Because abortion kills many of the conjoined twins who do not miscarry naturally, and so many of the surviving twins are surgically separated, twins living a conjoined life are very rare indeed. I have therefore provided links to conjoined and parasitic twins, past and present.

Hensel Twins
Abby and Britty are dicephalic twins -- each girl has her own head but they share a single body. The late Jim McMahon was proud to have aborted a pair of dicephalic twins.

Hilton Twins
They couldn't act, but they sang beautifully, and their lives inspired a movie and a Broadway show.

Manchester Twins "Jodie" and "Mary"
Born in August, 2000, the twins launched a worldwide debate about whether one twin should be sacrificed in an attempt to save the other.

Tocci Twins
Joined from the chest down, the brothers did not care for the sideshow life and retired to Italy.

Other Links:

Case Studies of Conjoined Twins
Background and two cases of successfully separated twins.

Case 34: Conjoined Twins
Information about various types of conjoined twins, with an x-ray of unusual conjoined twins.

Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia and Conjoined Twins
The hospital where C. Everett Koop pioneered surgery to separate conjoined twins brings information about conjoined twinning and the hospital's experiences.

Classification of Conjoined Twins
Terminology, and some links to photos.


Conjoined Twins
Information aimed at helping parents understand the various kinds of conjoined twinning.

Conjoined Twins Celebrate Five Years of Separation
Tiesha and Iesha Turner were born in 1991.

Conjoined Twins, Successfully Separated, Return Home
Twin girls separated at seven months.

Conjoined Twins Suffer Post-Surgery Setback
A series of operations to separate girls joined at the head is complicated by one twin's siezures.

Doctors Say Conjoined Twins Share Liver
Efforts to help conjoined little girls born to uninsured parents in Mexico.

Doctors Separate Twins Joined at Birth
A successful surgery for two little girls.

Hopkins Neurosurgeon Separates Zambian Siamese Twins
Computer technology allows doctor to "rehearse" surgery.

A Hyphenated Life
The original "Siamese Twins," Chang and Eng Bunker.

Parents Give Twins Chance at Life
A visitor informs me that local news is good -- the twins do each have a heart and lungs. Put this family on your prayer list.

Rare Conjoined Twins Born With Only Two Legs
A rare birth in California in 1998. Gabrielle and Micheala were born by c-section, surgery debated.

Siamese Twins Rally
Little girls in critical condition preparing for surgery.

Siamese Twins REPACK
A transcript of a NOVA episode about surgery to separate conjoined twins.

Social History of Conjoined Twins
A virtual museum tour looking at such famous twins as Chang and Eng and Millie/Christine.

Twins Celebrate Successful Surgery
Joined at birth, these little girls, Bethany and Hannah Rainey, are now separated and walking on prosthetic legs.

Types of Conjoined Twins
Terminology and frequency of different conjoined twins. Includes photos of three museum exhibits of rare conjoined twins.

For more information on congenital conditions:

Prenatal Diagnoses

Give us your input about providing options other than abortion to parents facing prenatal diagnoses at the Forum.