In a new essay Half Guilty, Nick Kam explores the legal ramifications of a thought experiment: if a conjoined twin commits murder, can the legal system punish them? Could the innocent twin be punished simply for their unusual medical condition?
Kam, a third-year student at the University of San Francisco School of Law, is currently working on the piece, which he has excerpted on his website. He asks to imagine a scenario where a conjoined twin commits murder and the murderer's twin is completely innocent of the crime. This, incidentally, is the plot of the 1951 exploitation film Chained for Life, starring Violet and Daisy Hilton, pictured above, and Kam cites a historical record of such a murder occurring in 17th century Italy. Kam then wonders whether such a conjoined twin could be punished under the American legal system.
The essay looks at the various possible methods of achieving punishment, including execution, incarceration, physically separating the twins, and monetary damages. He explores the effect of the punishment both in terms of the social goals of punishment and how it would impact the innocent twin — and he cites some fairly twisted scenarios, such as trying to execute one twin but not the other by electrocution.
It's ultimately an interesting thought experiment, one that examines the goals of legal punishment and the relative weight our social values. But if medical technology advances to the point where the separation of conjoined twins could be achieved safely and easily — or where one twin could, in fact, be executed — then questions like this could become even more complicated. It would be interesting to see Kam explore the question of whether an innocent conjoined twin would have complete dominion over his or her own body, or whether the legal system could someday forbid them from harboring a criminal on their own anatomically anomalous person.
Half Guilty [Nick Kam]