When the desperate parents of a 5-year-old terminal cancer patient took their son from a British hospital to try to find the treatment they wanted in another country, they became fugitives of the law in a European manhunt. Now their son has been taken from them and they face criminal charges of neglect and child endangerment.
One needs to only watch a few minutes of Brett King’s emotional plea explaining why he and his wife, Naghemeh, took their 5-year-old son Ashya King out of a British hospital to understand just how desperate parents of terminally ill children feel.
In the video taped just moments before he was arrested in Spain, King explains that while doctors at the Southampton General Hospital in Hampshire, England, successfully removed their son’s malignant brain tumor, the medical staff wouldn’t respect their choice of radiation treatment.
Instead of general standard radiation, King says he and his wife pleaded with the British National Health Service to approve their son for proton beam therapy, a highly specialized treatment used in child cancers in the United States and Switzerland, which targets the tumor directly rather than radiating the entire brain. Because proton beam therapy is not offered under the NHS for anything but eye cancer, they would have to be sent abroad for treatment. Several other children facing life-threatening cancer have been sent abroad for the treatment under the NHS, including the son of Tracy Laycock, who told the BBC that it saved his life.
But King says when he suggested that he would even pay for the treatment with his own money, the NHS doctors reportedly threatened him with a restraining order that would have kept him from seeing his son. They also told him that his Internet research was flawed, and that he should not consult the Internet but instead trust the NHS doctors at face value. “We couldn’t take it any more, the not knowing and not being able to question anything in fear that they say, ‘Sorry, Mr. and Mrs. King, emergency protection order, you’re no longer allowed in the ward,’” King said on the tape, which has been viewed more than 650,000 times since being posted on August 30. “Under that stress, our son has grade four brain tumor, we couldn’t discuss or question them at all in fear that our son would be in that ward all day long by himself without his parents being able to come in. We couldn’t be under that system any more.”
When reached for comment, NHS and the Southampton General Hospital refused to comment on the case because of privacy issues.
The Kings and their six other children removed young Ashya from the cancer ward at the hospital last Thursday and, loaded into the family’s minivan, headed across the English Channel on a ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg, France, in search of a place to stay where they could raise the funds to pay for the specialized treatment. They had pinpointed a medical center in the Czech Republic where they intended to have the young boy treated once they sold their home and raised additional funds to cover costs. They drove through France before settling in Spain, where they rented rooms in a hostel in Malaga. But the staff recognized them from media reports in which they were portrayed as kidnappers who were putting their child at risk.
Last Thursday, British police issued a European detention order against the couple, warning that Ashya could die if he wasn’t found, in part because the batteries on his feeding tube apparatus would run out in 24 hours. “If we do not locate Ashya today there are serious concerns for his life,” Detective Superintendent Dick Pearson of Hampshire Police said on British news networks. “He is receiving constant medical care within the UK due to recent surgery and ongoing medical issues. Without this specialist 24-hour care Ashya is at risk of additional health complications, which place him at substantial risk. He needs to be taken to a medical facility for his urgent health requirements as soon as he is located.”
The day after the Kings were arrested, Ashya’s older brother Naveed posted his own video plea in which he showed the extensive medical arsenal the family traveled with to take care of Ashya, including a wheelchair, feeding tubes, syringes and Calpol, the pain and fever relief medication he was given in the Southampton hospital. He also showed the power cord for his brother’s feeding tube, to show that the family was not about to let the feeding tube batteries die. He said that moments before his parents were arrested, “Ashya was obviously happy. He was not in any danger. He was not neglected at all.”
Police in the UK meanwhile have stood by their decision to sound the alarm and find the terminally ill child. Speaking to reporters in the United Kingdom, assistant chief constable Chris Shead said they had no regrets. "Faced with those circumstances I make no apology for the police being as proactive as they possibly can to find Ashya and ensure that he gets the help he needed,” he said. “I would much sooner be standing here facing criticism for being proactive than to stand here and face criticism for doing nothing and eventually having to explain why a child has lost his life."
Police in Hampshire must now decide whether to extradite the Kings back to England and file kidnapping and neglect charges. Young Ashya is expected to be returned to the Southampton General Hospital to begin his prescribed standard radiation therapy sometime this week.