General Question

SeventhSense's avatar

What would your life be like as a conjoined twin like the Hensels?

Asked by SeventhSense (18889points) May 3rd, 2009

I just finished watching an episode of TLC.
Abby and Brittany Hensel are conjoined twins with two heads, two legs and two arms. As fascinated as I was by this it brought up a million questions of how things are done. It seems almost endless from cutting an apple to chatting online. They passed their drivers test and drive a car, walk, run, write and type

From Wikipedia:
Each of the twins manages one side of their conjoined body and they are quite ambidextrous and coordinated in both their arms and legs when both hands or both legs are required. By coordinating their efforts, they are able to walk, run and ride a bicycle normally — all tasks that they learned at a normal speed. They each write with their corresponding hand. Together, they can type on a computer keyboard at a normal speed. Their sense of touch is partitioned to their own body half, which shades off at the midsagittal plane such that there is a small amount of overlap at their midline
Their organ distribution and number of body parts
2 heads
2 completely separate spinal cords
2 spines with ribs bridging the two columns
2 arms (originally 3, but rudimentary central arm was surgically removed, leaving central shoulder blade in place)
1 broad ribcage, with surgery to correct scoliosis and expand the pleural cavities
2 breasts
2 highly fused sternums, traces of bridging ribs
4 lungs (medial lungs moderately fused, not involving Brittany’s upper right lobe); three pleural cavities
1 diaphragm with well-coordinated involuntary breathing, slight central defect
2 hearts in a shared circulatory system (nutrition, respiration, medicine taken by either affects both)
2 stomachs
2 gallbladders
1 liver, enlarged and elongated right lobe
Y-shaped small intestine which experiences a slightly spastic double peristalsis at the juncture
1 large intestine with one colon
2 left kidneys, 1 right kidney
1 bladder
1 set of reproductive organs
2 separate half-sacrums, which converge distally
1 slightly broad pelvis
2 legs

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

20 Answers

nayeight's avatar


shrubbery's avatar

Do they each have their own social security number?

SeventhSense's avatar

Good question and furthermore do they have one license? What if one passes out while driving?

shrubbery's avatar

They had to each take a different driving test, as far as I know. So I assume two different licenses.

shrubbery's avatar

The funny thing about this is that when shown this or this you didn’t think “It’s two snakes joined together” or “two lambs joined together”, did you? You thought “two headed snake” and “two headed lamb”.

So why are Abby and Brittany two different people? Why is it not one person with two heads? In society we associate faces with identities. Therefore if we see two faces we see two identities. So Abby and Brittany were brought up as two different people. But biologically, are they not one single organism? One person? What if they had been brought up as one person? I mean, they may have different opinions sometimes, but doesn’t every single person argue with themselves inside their heads? Can not one person hold two different opinions? Just some things to think about.

Furthermore, regarding boyfriends etc, do both of them date the same guy, or is he only one of their boyfriends? What about having sex? Is it like a threesome with your sister? And who’s baby would it be?

And why would they have to take two separate driving tests? I mean, it’s not like one can drive without the other.

This kind of thing just throws up so many questions. I find it fascinating.

Jayne's avatar

@shrubbery; A person’s mind is not divided into two equal segments that operate with complete independence. The twins are barely any more like one person than two twins who live together. Granted, philosophically, the distinction between any two people is arbitrary; but since you are already talking of people as discrete entities, then no, there is no justification for your assertion.

SeventhSense's avatar

And why would they have to take two separate driving tests? I mean, it’s not like one can drive without the other.
I suppose it’s in case one of them passes out.

knitfroggy's avatar

They take two driving tests because they are two people. Just because they are conjoined doesn’t mean they are one person.

casheroo's avatar

I imagine they can drive without the other. I drive with only one foot…and one hand sometimes.

I don’t know what I would be like if I were one of them…I’ve never been conjoined. I imagine when it comes to boyfriends and sex, is when they’ll have the biggest issues. I just don’t understand how that would work, since they have one pelvis…like, what if the one girl wasn’t in the mood for sex but the other is?
And wouldn’t people judge the man for wanting to be with them? I remember the show with the shortest woman who gave birth, people always talked poorly on the man for wanting to be with her.

SeventhSense's avatar

LOL..umm…“can i use it tonight?” “you had it last night”...“ya but i just want to watch law and order”..“ok so put this pillow between our heads, bob is coming over.” “you know i hate him”..“don’t start.”

casheroo's avatar

@SeventhSense lol. Well, they’re 19…I’m sure they’ll be dealing with that sooning or later.

shrubbery's avatar

@Jayne, I was not asserting anything, just posing some questions, some of which you answered. I do not necessarily believe that, I was just exploring some ideas. My science teacher does believe that they are one single person, though.

SeventhSense's avatar

It’s a legitimate question. I think we can be fairly certain that regardless of whether they are one or two individual identities they defy any definition we have of one person or a typical set of twins. They have two separate brains yet they are compelled by design to have to think in tandem with an opposing side of their own body which is ruled by a separate head. That certainly must be odd.

benjaminlevi's avatar

@casheroo What about conjoined twins that had two sets of reproductive organs, if you had sex with one of them would they both get off?

augustlan's avatar

The ‘original’ conjoined twins (the Siamese twins) Chang and Eng were married to a pair of sisters. Though they had all their limbs, and their own reproductive organs, it still must have been quite a challenge.

The Hensel twins are pretty darn fascinating… they decided for themselves not to attempt separation. Clearly, they consider their quality of life while joined to be superior to a life lived separately. While they were in school, they turned in separate work for most classes, and got different grades, too.

I don’t think I’d have the fortitude to live their life, but who knows? If I were born that way, maybe I would.

Jayne's avatar

How on earth could they have been separated?

casheroo's avatar

@Jayne so weird, I was just coming here to post that, as I was thinking about this question today.

augustlan's avatar

I don’t know, but apparently it was a possibility:

When Britty and Abby were born in 1990, doctors disagreed on whether the twins could or should be separated. The operation would divide the twins in half, leaving each girl with only one arm and one leg. Neither twin would be able to support artificial limbs, so they’d both probably be disabled for life.

Abby and Britty’s parents, Mike and Patty Hensel, never considered separating the girls. Doctors told them that the chances of both twins surviving the operation were very small. “How could you pick between the two?” asks Mike. The twins support their parents’ decision.


preggers's avatar

1 set of reproductive organs
I would be pretty pissed if I had to go through all of this if she was the one who got us knocked up. Just kidding. It’s not as if I wouldn’t have noticed.

LeotCol's avatar

It would be a poor life I think… I like privacy

Answer this question




to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther