Parents arrested for taking sick child abroad

Doing what’s best: Ashya with his mother, Naghmeh King.

The mother and father of five-year-old Ashya King were arrested in Spain after taking him abroad for treatment. Who should decide what is best for a sick child, his doctors or his parents?

A battle over the welfare of a seriously ill five-year-old boy has grown into an international manhunt and sparked a national debate over the rights of parents.

Ashya King was being treated for a brain tumour in Southampton when his parents read about a treatment called proton beam therapy (PBT) which they believed would be good for him. But PBT is not covered by the NHS because of its cost and doctors said it would be ineffective against Ashya’s type of tumour.

Undeterred and desperate to help their son, the parents took Ashya from hospital against medical advice. They travelled first to Spain, where they hoped to sell a holiday home to raise funds for the treatment, and then planned going to a PBT centre in the Czech Republic.

At this point the UK police began a major search to track Ashya down. They issued a European arrest warrant on the grounds of parental neglect and appealed to the public for help, reporting that Ashya's parents had 'snatched' him and his life was 'at stake’.

Horrified at the accusations, Ashya’s father posted a video on YouTube with his son, who looked well and seemed to have the necessary supplies and equipment. He calmly explained that he was doing what he thought was best for his child.

Yet the parents were arrested by Spanish police and placed in custody. Ashya is currently in a Spanish hospital and cut off from his family.

The arrest has created a wave of outrage in the media as many believe that doctors have no right to override the wishes of parents in this way. More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that Ashya be reunited with his parents. David Cameron has expressed his sympathy for the parents who are just following their ‘instincts’.

The police say they make ‘no apology’ for protecting a child whose life is in danger. Strict patient confidentiality rules have prevented Ashya’s doctors from explaining their position, yet the hospital has said Ashya has a 70-80% chance of survival over the next five years if he continues the treatment it offers.

Criminalised for caring

Some people say that in this case the medical profession has shown its arrogance by overriding the Kings’ wishes. It made Ashya’s situation even worse by separating him from his parents. Doctors make mistakes, and ultimately parents should decide what treatment their children should have.

Yet others argue that doctors have a professional duty to protect children and provide them with their best treatment, even against their parents' wishes if necessary. While it may have been excessive to treat Ashya’s parents as criminals, it was right for doctors to ensure Ashya was returned to a hospital for treatment.

You Decide

  1. Were doctors and the police right to start a European-wide hunt for Ashya and his parents?
  2. ‘Doctors and experts should have the final say when it comes to children’s welfare, not parents.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. Class debate: ‘Doctors should not be able to perform any treatment or operations without the patient’s full consent’.
  2. Imagine you are Ashya’s mother or father and you are being hunted by the police after taking your son away for treatment abroad. Write a diary of how you would feel, along with your reasons for taking him away.

Some People Say...

“The one lesson all doctors seem to forget is that they are not always right.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Can doctors treat me even if I don’t want them to?
Anyone over the age of 16 can refuse to have treatment that they do not want, provided they are of sound mind. Under 16, parental permission is required. However, if a parent refuses treatment for their child, doctors can apply to a court to overrule them.
Why did Ashya’s parents not trust his doctors?
The internet allows everyone to research illnesses and treatments online. This means that patients nowadays are far more likely to question a doctor’s opinion, as it may show how the medical profession is divided over the efficacy of a certain treatment. The NHS supports proton beam therapy but only funds a few cases as it is particularly expensive. Ashya’s parents were willing to pay for it themselves.

Word Watch

Proton beam therapy
This is a type of radiation therapy which can be directed at a tumour more precisely than X-rays and most current treatments. It is currently only available in the UK for eye treatments, though the NHS hopes to have more facilities by 2018.
Cost
The NHS says the treatment would cost £100,000, though Ashya’s parents say this is based on treatment in the US. The centre they were travelling to in Prague offered treatments at around £25,000.
Czech Republic
Doctors at the centre in Prague said they had been informed that Ashya was on his way and that they would have been able to treat him immediately. The UK does fund proton beam therapy abroad for some patients, but it can only afford to send a few.
Family
Aysha has five brothers, but only one so far has been allowed to see him. Psychiatrists warn that given the child’s condition, separating him from his family is a needlessly troubling thing to do.

Subjects

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