It is hard to understand the behaviour of the British authorities towards the family of Ashya King.
Here is a child with a tumour known as medulloblastoma – a serious condition that is hard to treat, with only two options that have been shown to the general public.
The treatment protocol on offer at Southampton General Hospital is called the packer regime and includes high dose radiotherapy to the entire neck, back, head and spine and a prolonged chemotherapy cycle with vincristine and cisplatin – all of which are cytoxic drugs with devastating side effects.
The drugs cause hearing loss, neuropathy and kidney damage; and the long-term effects of the regime include pituitary gland deformity and secondary malignant tumours. Vox Political is advised that it is commonly known that unfortunately the regime often has devastating effects long term.
The problem with medulloblastoma is that if even a small amount of tumour is left over after resection, the tumour can grow back very quickly; this is why the chemo- and radiotherapy is commenced so quickly after the tumour is removed.
The other side effect of cranial resection arise from the fact that the entry port of the skull is not replaced, leaving a hole that – although sutured – can and does represent a serious risk of brain infection; also the pressure of the meningeal fluid is altered.
The other treatment is proton beam therapy, a type of radiation therapy that uses beams of protons – or small parts of atoms – rather than high energy X-rays, as with conventional radiotherapy.
The protons can be directed at a tumour more precisely than X-rays and unlike conventional treatments the beams stop once they hit the target, rather than carrying on through the body. Experts say this causes less damage to surrounding tissue and reduces side-effects.
On a level playing field, the choice would be a no-brainer. But this isn’t a level playing field. The King family were refused the option of proton beam therapy by doctors at Southampton, apparently because of the cost – £100,000 per patient, although this appears to be based on the cost of sending Ashya to the USA, which is the most expensive country in which the treatment is provided.
His family want him to have the proton beam treatment in the Czech republic, which is much cheaper, and intended to pay for the treatment themselves.
This is where the story takes on a more sinister aspect, because the doctors at Southampton – along with the police – have decided to overrule one of the most important principles of healthcare – that the patient must consent to treatment.
In the case of people aged under 16, a person with parental responsibility must give consent for treatment to to take place, unless the patient has the understanding and intelligence to appreciate what is involved.
If the person with parental responsibility refuses treatment and doctors believe that decision could lead to death or severe permanent injury an application can be made to the court of protection to overrule them.
Ashya’s parents did not consent to the treatment on offer. Who can blame them, when one considers the terrible and lasting side-effects that are likely, alongside the fact that a much less harmful treatment seemed to be available but was being denied to them?
That is why they took their son out of the hospital and travelled to Europe – stopping in Spain on their way to the Czech Republic, where it seems they have arranged for treatment to take place. The diversion was in order to sell property there, in order to pay for the treatment.
In these circumstances – and especially in the light of the fact that Ashya seems to be as well as can be expected at the moment, receiving treatment in a Spanish hospital – it is hard to understand why the hospital had him made a ward of court and Hampshire Police obtained a European Arrest Warrant on the grounds that the Kings were neglecting their son.
The truth appears to be quite the opposite – Ashya would suffer more serious harm at the hands of the Southampton doctors.
Parents Brett and Naghemeh King were arrested on Saturday, despite the fact that no crime has been alleged against them. Appearing in court in Madrid today, they refused to consent to extradition and a High Court judge in that country is now considering whether to grant bail.
While it is reasonable to allege that Mr and Mrs King endangered their son by removing him from hospital, it must also be recognised that they were put into a situation where neither of the choices available to them were desirable and they had to choose what they believed to be the lesser of two evils.
Now they are sitting in jail while the British authorities – both the NHS and the police – await their opportunity to seize their son and subject him to a process that may relieve the immediate danger to his life but will almost certainly – and irreparably – harm the quality of that life.
And in the midst of all this, Downing Street has issued a statement in support of the British authorities, saying – with no apparent irony – that Ashya should receive “the very best medical care”.
It seems the Prime Minister is keen to ensure the next British medical scandal is a really big one.
If you wish to support the family of Ashya King, there is a petition you can sign, here.
There is a Facebook page about Ashya’s case here.
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