By HOLLY WAINWRIGHT
It’s a heartbreaking image. A desperate father wheeling a very sick little boy away from the hospital that saved his life, knowing that they’re not coming back.
The boy, Ashya King, is five, and he has brain cancer. He is being fed through a tube. At the time that his father, Brett, took him from the hospital, the machine that was feeding him was battery-operated, and the battery was running down.
It seemed to be an enormous risk. But Ashya’s family firmly believed that they were only doing what was best for their son. They had been online, and they had researched a treatment that they thought would be better for their boy (read more about that here) , and when they’d suggested it to Ashya’s doctors, they had been shut down.
So they took him.
They took him with the idea of getting him to a country that would offer him the care he believed Aysha needed. Southampton is a port town, so it wasn’t hard to gather up his six siblings and whisk them all away on a ferry to another place.
Who is to say they were wrong? The British police, clearly, who issued a warrant for the family’s arrest and sparked a man hunt in three countries.
At the time of writing, Ashya’s parents, Brett and Naghemeh King, 45, are under arrest, charged with child neglect. Ashya is back in hospital, in Spain.
This is a complex story of conflicting medical advice, parental desperation, religion (the Kings are Jehovah’s Witnesses) and a clash of opinions about an expensive and experimental treatment. A little boy’s life, and a family’s soul, hangs in the balance.
Brett and Naghemeh insist that they did not take a risk with their son’s life, in a video posted on YouTube. Brett, with Aysha lying beside him in a nappy and singlet, shows the machine that Asyha is connected to and says, “There’s been a lot of talk about this machine, as you see it’s all plugged in. We’ve got loads of these feeds, we’ve got iron supplements and Calpol.”
But what it calls into question is who should be ultimately responsible for making decisions about a child’s health? The parents, signing forms and waivers, praying and Googling by their loved one’s bedside, or highly-trained medical professionals who are realistic about trials, treatments and the economic realities of treating the sick?