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Compulsory Bad Medicine

September 1, 2014 permalink

Ashya King was treated in England for brain cancer. When parents Brett and Naghemeh King were unsatisfied with radiation prescribed for their son, they requested proton beam treatment for Ashya. British doctors refused to provide the treatment and instead threatened the parents with a protection order banning them from contact with Ashya. The parents fled with Ashya to Spain. There they have been arrested and Ashya is being treated in a Spanish hospital.

Here is a local copy (mp4) of the family video mentioned in the article. Bias alert! The first half of the Guardian story tells only the social services viewpoint.



Parents arrested as missing Ashya King found by police in Spain

Ashya sent to hospital after father posts video online complaining about NHS treatment for his son's brain tumour

Ashya King with his mother, Naghemeh
Ashya King with his mother, Naghemeh. The family were last seen on Thursday afternoon.
Photograph: M&Y News Agency

The international hunt for Ashya King, the missing five-year-old boy with a brain tumour, came to a dramatic end on Saturday night when his parents were arrested in Spain and their son was taken from them and sent to a local hospital for urgent medical treatment.

Brett and Naghemeh King, 45, were spotted in their Hyundai people carrier around 10pm by police in Velez Malaga, a town an hour to the east of Marbella. The couple, who were being held under an international arrest warrant on suspicion of neglect, had checked into a hostel about 14 miles away in Benajaraf on the Costa del Sol where they had left their six other children.

Ashya had been removed from Southampton general hospital by his parents against medical advice last week. He was last seen with the rest of his family on a ferry travelling from Portsmouth to Cherbourg on Thursday afternoon. At a press conference on Saturday night, the assistant chief constable of Hampshire, Chris Shead, said: "Just before 9pm UK time [Spanish police] found Ashya. They stopped the vehicle that we've been circulating the details of and in the vehicle was Ashya's parents and Ashya. We don't have many details as to Ashya's condition in this time but we do know he was showing no visible signs of distress."

Shead added that the parents had been arrested and taken to a police station. "There are no winners in this situation," he said. "This must be a very distressing time for Ashya's family. Thankfully we have found Ashya. Our number one aim has been to ensure he gets the welfare he needs. We've immediately contacted Southampton General Hospital to make sure they have the details of Ashya's medical team in Spain. Tomorrow morning we will be sending a team of police to Malaga and they will continue the investigation."

In a YouTube video posted by Ashya's eldest brother, Naveed, earlier in the night, Brett King spoke for 10 minutes explaining the couple's decision to take their son out of hospital and seek medical help abroad. He complained about the "trial and error" treatment Ashya had been receiving on the NHS and called for the hunt to be called off, saying the family had become "refugees almost" and asked that they be left in peace. Sitting on a bed with his son lying limply in his lap in a nappy and T-shirt, King, 51, said: "We've been labelled as kidnappers, putting [Ashya's] life at risk, neglect."

He then pointed to food supplements at the side of the bed, connected to Ashya by tubes. "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," he said. "As you can see there's nothing wrong with him, he's very happy actually, since we took him out of hospital he's been smiling a lot more."

Online comments to the video were overwhelmingly supportive of the Kings, with people asking police to treat them with "compassion and understanding".

King said in the video that Ashya's health deteriorated after initial successful treatment to remove his tumour and they argued with doctors over next steps. The Kings wanted a specific type of cancer treatment called proton beam treatment that is not available on the NHS. Brett King said: "We asked the NHS if we could please go to America, to Switzerland, or another country to get proton beam, because it's so much better for children with brain cancer. It zones in on the area, whereby normal radiation passes right through his head and comes out the other side and destroys everything in his head. They looked at me straight in the face and said with his cancer – which is called medulloblastoma – it would have no benefit whatsoever."

King said the hospital threatened to take out an emergency protection order that would have banned them from coming on to the ward. "After that I realised I can't speak to the oncologist at all, because if I actually ask anything or give any doubt I wasn't in full accord with them, they were going to get a protection order which meant in his deepest, darkest hour [we] wouldn't be there to look after him. That's such a cruel system.

"We decided to try and sort it out ourselves but now we're refugees almost. We can't do anything. The police are after us. The things we want to do to raise the money to pay for the proton beam, they've prevented it now. So my son is being treated and he's doing fine. We're very happy with his progress. We're not neglecting him. He has everything he had in hospital. Speak to the nurses, have they seen him move as much as this? I'm not coming back to England if I cannot give him the treatment I want."

On Saturday afternoon, Hampshire police said they had "positive information" that the Kings' car had been seen in Spain, where they own a villa in Marbella. Spanish police visited the villa but there had been no sign of the family, fuelling fears about Ashya's condition.

His last operation had been seven days ago. Police had warned that his battery-operated feeding system was likely to have expired and feared that his health would deteriorate rapidly unless he received medical care.

Appeals for help in finding Ashya had been made in Italian, French and Spanish. Interpol sent out a missing persons alert to each of its 190 member countries.

A family friend said earlier that Ashya's family had run away in desperation: "This is my mother's friend, she has run away in desperation because they cannot accept that there is nothing that can be done for their son and want to look for help abroad," Katie Fletcher wrote on Hampshire police's Facebook page.

"Please don't judge. They are a very sweet, loving family and I can only believe they are doing this because they want to help their son."

Naveed first posted a YouTube video on 23 July speaking about his sibling's illness. "Everyone is sending their love now," he said. "We love you so much and we want to see you very soon and I love you so much and can't wait to see you."

The Office of Public Information for Jehovah's Witnesses, who refuse blood transfusions on religious grounds, confirmed that Ashya's parents were followers of the religious movement.

A spokesman said there was "absolutely no indication" that the family's decision to remove their son from hospital was "motivated by any religious convictions".

Brett King's mother, Patricia, said her son was "the most caring and wonderful father you could ever have".

Legal experts said it was unlikely that the Kings had committed an offence by taking Ashya out of hospital. Professor Penney Lewis, of King's College London, said: "There has never been a case where parents have done something like this and they have been prosecuted."

Shead said the six-and-a-half-hour gap between Ashya being taken from hospital and police being called would be considered "further down the line".

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, which is in charge of Southampton general hospital, said Ashya was allowed to leave the ward under his parents' supervision and hospital staff raised the alarm when the length of his absence became a cause of concern.

Source: Guardian (UK)

Here is an opinion from Spiked.



Ashya King: parents are more trustworthy than the state

Officialdom’s war on parental authority created this travesty of justice.

For the past week, the British public has watched in horror as the British state tore a dying child from his family. On Saturday, Brett and Naghmeh King were arrested for removing their son Ashya, who has a brain tumour, from Southampton General Hospital and fleeing abroad. Only today are the family set to be reunited. For decades, defenders of the legal framework around children have boasted of its abilities to manage a child’s ‘best interests’. Yet on Saturday afternoon, a five-year-old child with a brain tumour was removed from the only people with whom he is familiar and thrust into an alien environment while his parents were locked in prison. Whatever the eventual outcome of this case, we can say with certainty that no legal system which claims to be concerned with the ‘interests of the child’ should have allowed this to happen.

While the decision-making processes of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Hampshire police will no doubt be analysed in minute detail in the coming weeks, with statement after statement delivered to explain why certain decisions were made and who will be held accountable, it is important to remember that no one person or organisation can be held solely responsible. Rather, what happened was the logical climax of a series of trends in criminal and family law, which have disregarded the authority and autonomy of parents in favour of official intervention at any cost.

Yesterday, the CPS finally withdrew the European arrest warrants which had been issued for the Kings. It said in a statement that ‘the necessary element of wilful neglect to support a charge of child cruelty had not been made out’. While the CPS was discovering that its original case for the warrants was complete nonsense, the Kings had been arrested and detained in Spain and Ashya had been taken into protective custody. He had already been made a permanent ward of the court the day after he was taken from hospital, meaning, effectively, that his parents had already lost all of their rights to care for him.

All the facts will not be known for some time. However, on the basis of what has been released by the CPS so far, it is clear that assumptions were made throughout that the Kings were wilfully neglecting their child, notwithstanding that no direct evidence appears to exist to support these assumptions.

The Kings were sought under a warrant which alleged the offence of child cruelty under Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The offence is committed where a person over the age of 16 with the responsibility for a child under that age ‘wilfully… neglects’ that child. The act gives examples of neglect, including ‘where a parent… fails to provide adequate medical aid’.

A CPS lawyer, looking at the evidence provided by Hampshire police, would have had to resolve several issues. First, was there sufficient evidence to prosecute the offence of child cruelty? And secondly, was it in the public interest to pursue a prosecution? If the CPS decided that both of these tests had been passed, then it would have drafted an application for a warrant and submitted it to the magistrate. The magistrate would then decide whether to grant it.

According to the CPS’s own statement, the evidence used to obtain the warrant was ‘that [Ashya] required round-the-clock nursing care to manage his recovery, including to manage the feeding tube which was keeping him alive and hydrated’. It goes on to say that ‘it was evident that Mr and Mrs King did not have the necessary training to remove it’, which could have placed Ashya’s life in danger. It was also evident, according to the statement, that ‘the King family did not have any of the specialist nutrition that Ashya needed’, and that ‘the feeding tube required charge from a battery which was running out and for which the parents had not taken the power supply’.

This evidence was not enough on its own to seal the King’s fate. What was needed was a vital additional component, one which exposed the heart of this disastrous case and the rotten heart of contemporary law around children - namely, a powerful assumption on behalf of those enacting the law that the state knew what was best for Ashya over and above his parents. And it was this which carried forward a prosecution that most Britons seem to have looked upon as outrageous.

Right from the off, those involved in investigating this case assumed the worst about Ashya’s parents. They assumed that the Kings would take on the job of changing their son’s feeding tube without properly understanding how it was done; they assumed that the Kings fled the country with none of the specialist nutrition required for Ashya’s care; and they assumed that the Kings would have failed to find a means of charging the battery which powered Ashya’s feeding tube. In other words, it was assumed that they were out to neglect their child through their removal of him from the care of the state.

These assumptions have been shown to be resoundingly false. The Kings had ordered specialist nutrition for Ashya; they had managed to charge the feeding tube using a car battery; and they had no difficulties in changing his feeding tube. Further medical evidence revealed that the ‘risk to Ashya’s life was not as serious as had been originally thought’. In other words, the authorities assumed the worst, and the worst turned out to be wrong.

So who is to blame for the clumsy, dangerous and authoritarian assumptions which underlie the decision-making processes at work in this case? Of course, the CPS and the police bear much responsibility for failing to ask even the most basic questions about those they were prosecuting. But their assumptions were not born in a vacuum. This case is a snapshot of the current climate around child protection, in which it is too easily assumed that state care is better than parent care.

It was only two years ago that the then education secretary Michael Gove decried how ‘the rights of biological parents’ are allowing children to ‘endure a life of soiled nappies and scummy baths’. This he blamed on the state intervening ‘too late’. In 2011, the Family Justice Review, which went on to influence the drafting of the new Children’s and Families Act 2014, concluded that local authorities were too often ‘distrusted’ in their child-protection work and the courts should be ‘quicker’ to grant them parental control in place of parents. The act itself was said by the Department of Education to have as its ‘overriding goal’ the more efficient removal of children from ‘problem families’. It enshrined in law a 26-week limit to care proceedings, which led to children being forcefully adopted. There has, in recent years, been a clear trajectory towards overriding parents’ rights in favour of having children removed from homes more ‘efficiently’.

But it is not just the state which is gung-ho about the abolition of parents’ rights. The children’s charity Barnardo’s has consistently argued for a limit to care proceedings to ensure that ‘neglected’ children can be adopted quicker. The NSPCC launch campaign after campaign rallying behind state authority over the rights of parents. When Ashya’s parents struck out and asserted their own judgement over that of the state, they offended a core value at the heart of both government and the child-protection industry: that the state knows what’s best for kids. For the government, and those involved in advocating greater child protection, the rights of parents are often treated as mere legal obstacles to be overcome in the process of intervention.

What is needed following the Ashya King case is a fundamental shift in culture away from assuming the worst about parents. If anyone deserves the blame for what happened to the Kings, it is the interventionist politicians and child-advocacy groups, which consistently encourage state bodies to ignore the judgement of parents. We should stop assuming that any act of defiance against state intrusion in favour of parental judgement is an act of neglect. We should learn from the Kings’ example that often such defiance can demonstrate compassion, love and an unapologetic commitment to a child’s welfare.

Luke Gittos is law editor at spiked, a solicitor practising criminal law and convenor of the London Legal Salon.

Source: Spiked