Belfast Telegraph

Be thankful you didn't have to make decision Ashya King's parents faced

By Lindy McDowell

If it was your child what would you do? That is the haunting question raised by the troubling story of little Ashya King taken (or if you prefer 'kidnapped') from his NHS hospital bed in England and driven to Spain by his parents who were arrested earlier this week.

It may be some time before the full details of the case are publicly unravelled but what has been reported is that the Kings, husband and wife, Brett and Naghmeh, five-year-old Ashya and their six other children had been heading for a property they own in Spain hoping to sell it in order to raise the money to fund treatment for the child.

Proton beam therapy which has been used to treat children who, like Ashya, suffer from brain tumours is not available in the UK. But patients from here have been recommended for it and have been given it under NHS funding. In Ashya's case his doctors do not appear to believe it is likely to be helpful.

His parents, however, disagree. Hence their decision to take the child from his hospital bed and flee with him to Spain.

It is not hard to put yourself in their shoes and to imagine the desperation they must feel. If it was your little boy, you would do anything, wouldn't you?

You would clutch at any straw. At even the smallest glimmer of hope glimpsed on Google.

You hear stories all the time, don't you, of patients who, despite the dire warnings of doctors, searched down pioneering new treatments and managed to find funding and, in the process, buy for themselves and their families, if not a complete cure, at least precious months, even years.

Doctors, experts, are not infallible.

But then there is another side. I do not think for a second that the doctors who were treating Ashya took that decision that he should not be recommended for proton beam treatment on grounds of cost. They obviously truly judge it is not in the child's best interests.

Whatever the fallout between the hospital and the family, whatever the rights and wrongs regarding why and how the Kings took their son, it is the subsequent legal moves that most appal in this case.

After they were discovered in Spain (a hotel receptionist tipped off police) the King parents were taken to court and then remanded in custody.

The result? A dying five-year-old whose mother never left his side during his hospital stay in England was suddenly all alone in a strange hospital in a strange country. Surely it must have occurred to court officials that there was a more humane way to deal with this situation? One that put the child's feelings and interests first. Whatever happened to European Human Rights legislation? This is human tragedy compounded by clumsy, cruel law.

The distress of the Kings is at least understandable. The same cannot be said for a legal system whose response was to lock them up.

It is, of course, a terrible thing, a reckless thing to take a gravely ill child from his hospital bed.

But all of us understand, too, the love and the desperation that would drive the parents of a dying child to clutch to any straw – to do anything and everything in their power to save him.

The internet increasingly opens up new options, new hope – and in some cases, yes, undoubtedly false hope. Plus we are, all of us, more likely to challenge the medical experts than we would have been in the past.

We've heard stories of mistakes made, corners cut, failings in the system.

We no longer, let's face it, have the same trust in "the experts" in just about any walk of life.

If it was your child what would you do?

How very lucky the rest of us are, how very grateful we should be that we've never had to make that call.

Don't be Cheryl's support act, Mel

Poor Mel B who has found herself on the judging panel of the X Factor at precisely the same time as the fragrant, dewy-eyed former Ms Cole makes her return. Alongside a purring, smug Simon Cowell, who lavishes compliments upon la Cheryl as though he needs to atone for that past sacking.

The contestants go along with this. Cheryl is so gorgeous. They've all come to see Cheryl. A bit tough surely on poor Mel who is a pretty girl in her own right.

Holding up a cigarette lighter as a fan serenades the sainted one has to have been the last straw. It's a bit like accepting you can't hold a candle to Cheryl, Mel. But actually you can.

Watch your child, not your mobile

Driving up a narrow city street I see a group of adults with children coming out of an arts class. I'm not going fast, but I hit the anchors anyway and approach slowly.

Suddenly one child, about four years old, runs out into the road, arms wide like a superhero trying to stop my car. I slow further. He runs back to the man waiting with him. Take the child's hand will you? The man barely glances up. The boy runs out again. Then back to the man. Still no response. The boy runs out and back a third time. I slow down to a stop. The man glares at me in a what's-your-problem sort of way, then goes back to checking his phone.

More compelling obviously than the safety of his child.

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