Ashya King

Friday and yesterday I saw several news articles about a five-year-old boy named Ashya King who has brain cancer — specifically, a stage 4 medulloblastoma in his head. His parents had taken him from the hospital where he was receiving treatment and fled abroad. The hospital sought and obtained an emergency protection order for Ashya and international arrest warrants for his parents Peter and Naghemeh King.

Shortly before Ashya and his parents were located in Spain, his father posted this video statement to Youtube, explaining why they had fled.

I cannot imagine that you could see this video and not think that something beyond a usually-terminal stage 4 cancer is wrong with this situation. Despite the terrible circumstances, Mr. King comes across as a reasonable, rational parent who only wants what is best for his son. He wants to have his son treated with a different but viable therapy than the son’s doctor had chosen. According to Mr. King, his questions about the treatment plan chosen by his son’s doctor eventually led the doctor to threaten to bar him from the hospital while his son was being treated.

I am not a doctor, but unfortunately I know about medulloblastoma in children and about what this condition does to parents. The two-year-old daughter of my best friends died of it a quarter century ago. Her parents looked at *every* possible treatment for the disease. They asked endless questions of her doctors. Her father, in particular, looked at every possible experimental treatment available, everything that offered her some hope of a cure and a life worth living afterward. (25 years later, he is a doctor himself.)

I am positive that at times that his daughter’s doctors dreaded seeing my friend’s face. I am positive that they were at times sick of hearing his constant questions, sick of fending off his arguments for this or that experimental treatment. I watched a great deal of it when visiting his daughter at the hospital, and heard most of what he said to the doctors when he would talk about it at home. Constantly.

Her doctors did not threaten to bar her argumentative, passionate, determined and ultimately terrified parents from seeing their daughter. Her doctors did not leave them convinced that they could not ask questions if they wanted to remain able to be with their daughter. Her doctors did not tell them that the doctors and not they had the authority to make all final decisions about her care.

Ashya’s doctor might be right about the best treatment for the boy. I don’t know; I’m not a doctor. And I don’t doubt that Mr. King has been a pest. At the same time, I’ve never before seen a doctor or medical team show such a fundamental lack of empathy with the parents of a dying child. The doctor that allowed matters to reach this pass might be a brilliant scientist, able to design treatments and save lives. He should not be the one talking with the parents.

UK National Health, please take note. U.S. health care system, he’s a bad example. Please learn from it.

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