Something to Be Ashamed About

You might have heard about Ashya King, who has been all over the news in the last few days. Usually with captions like ‘abduction’ ‘kidnapping’ ‘child neglect’ and so on.

What started this media craziness and a parent hunt was a simple parents’ love and unwillingness to give up on their little son and find the best possible treatment out there for him.

Five year old Ashya King was diagnosed with brain cancer and as his father explains in the video, after the surgery he was offered the course of chemotherapy with radiotherapy. Ashya’s parents were trying to look for an alternative treatment because it is well-known that radiotherapy – especially in kids – can have waste side affects and, in brain tumours particularly, it can cause serious damage.

After his deep research and correspondence with proton therapy centres in Europe (Prague is a good for example), Mr King asked for the proton beam therapy in the Southampton General Hospital. However, he was told that the proton therapy is yet to be introduced in the UK and in the case of Ashya it would not be helpful. After that, Mr King did not give up and kept on corresponding with the Proton Therapy Center in Prague , which told him that even kids with Ashya’s condition can be treated. When he forwarded this correspondence to the Southampton doctor, he has not received any answer.

The hopeless situation, the doctors’ approach and a possibility of not being close to Ashya in his darkest hours lead the parents to a radical decision. They packed all the necessary medication and nutrition Ashya needs and drove him outside of the UK to give him suitable treatment and look for a second opinion.

What followed can only be described with one word: shameful. All the big media grabbed the news excitedly and turned it into an abduction and child neglect without giving any facts or the parents’ side of the story. With the boy’s face being the headline of the news and police chase after Ashya’s parents, it all made me enraged.

I have been dealing with neurological complications myself and even though I am not a child anymore, I remember the indestructible willpower of my parents to find as much information and to consult as many experts as possible, no matter where or for how much money. In the first place, all parents have the right to seek second opinion especially if they do not receive appropriate treatment from the doctors and know that there are other treatments available.

I remember my parents driving to Hannover to meet with doctor Helmut Bertalanffy who is one of the best neurosurgeons in the world, contacting the Proton Therapy Center in Prague and corresponding with neurology experts in the US.

Nothing would stop my parents to gather information and opinions and find the best possible solution and treatment. The same did Ashya’s parents.

The actions that followed and the messages given by the media and the police made me wonder how far should state go to interfere in situations like this. It is quite chilling to think that you can be accused of abducting your own child and being arrested and interrogated without breaking any law. What really frustrates me is the quite common pride of some doctors, their insensitivity and arrogance and sometimes the unwillingness to listen to the parents and their concerns.

Everyone has the right to be sceptical and seek second opinion, particularly in the case of cancer and tumours where there are so many different views, believes and research being done.

As proud as the NHS might be, it is not perfect. And unfortunately, with my experience around Europe, it is not even one of the best. Therefore, a lesson to be learnt for the NHS should be an improvement in some areas and perhaps admitting that there might be a reason why some people search for a help elsewhere.