Some things are more precious than life itself.
For many, political ideology falls into that category. Were that not so, men would not march willingly to war knowing that death lurks in the trenches.
For some, it is religious integrity, as in the case of ancient martyrs who faced Rome’s wild beasts rather than compromise their faith.
For Ladan and Laleh Bijani, it was something even more basic: An opportunity to sleep alone, bathe alone, eat alone; to pursue a chosen career; to perhaps marry and conceive children in privacy — a chance, in other words, to live without being joined at the head to a twin sister.
Their story came to a sad end last week in Singapore after a 50-hour operation separated the 29-year-old Iranian women but led to fatal complications. The operation involved 28 doctors and more than 100 nurses and technicians. Its success would have been a story the whole world could cheer. Now we are left to ponder meanings.
The medical community is divided over the ethics of the surgery, which offered only 50-50 odds for survival. Many physicians would not undertake elective surgery with such a high risk of failure. But those who performed the surgery say the sisters’ strong desire for separate lives left no choice.
Ladan wanted to be a lawyer, Laleh a journalist. One was perky and outgoing; the other quite shy. Each was the other’s captive, and they had sought release for nearly half their lives before doctors decided medical technology had reached the point of at least trying.
Some have complained about the time, money and attention lavished on women who admittedly could have lived many years in their conjoined state. The resources could have been used elsewhere, they say. That is true. The same amount, spent on lower-profile surgeries for more routine matters, would have helped many more people.
But society makes choices and in this case it chose to help twins whose plight was uniquely heartbreaking. There is nothing wrong with that choice. There is, instead, a great deal of nobility in it.
Ladan and Laleh died as they had lived. Together.
But they flew back to Iran in separate coffins, which only seems appropriate. In death, on their long journey home, they remind us that each human soul has its own precious worth.