Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Abuse of power: the fight for Ashya King

Some days ago, a story appeared in my Facebook feed from the Lincolnite, for a "missing" child, last seen with his parents, and possibly heading for Lincoln.  I commented on the stream, asking in what sense he ws missing, if he was with his parents?  There was no detail in the story to indicate that the parents were abusive or that he was in any danger.  The other people commenting on the stream treated my question as though I was an idiot - of COURSE the child must be at risk of harm if the police were chasing after him - but having been aware of a number of similar cases among the home education fraternity, where the social services had assessed children as being "at risk" without the slightest evidence that this was so, I am sceptical of witch hunts like this one without firm evidence.

I was less sceptical when the reports of the kidnapping of another child started to be run on the BBC, because it seemed from the reports that the child, suffering from a brain tumour, had been endangered by the parents, not having enough battery to continue the feeding that the child needed, and taking him out of the country to an unknown destination, but I retained my feeling that most loving parents will want what's best for their child, and so they must have had a very good reason for this action.

Once the facts of the case began to emerge, I was horrified that the authorities had issued such senstional news reports without any justification whatsoever.  The father went on youtube to explain that there was no danger to his son: the family had made very careful preparations for the journey, the feedling system could be plugged into the mains, use a battery (and they had a spare) and they could also do the feeding manually using a syringe if necessary.

It became clear from the information released by the family that they had disagreed with the doctor treating their son, and wanted to be able to have a treatment for his brain tumour known as proton B.  When he refused, saying that it wasn't appropriate to his case, AND refused to allow them to seek a second opinion, the family did what actually few enough of us would actually do, and decided to sell their assets and find the treatment elsewhere.  Proton B, as far as I understand it is a better targetted use of radiation for tumours that avoids as far as possible the damage which can be inflicted by standard radiation treatment.  In terms of a brain tumour, that may be significant.

In any case, the child was not in the danger which the hospital had stated, the parents had committed no crime by removing their child from the hospital and leaving the country, and surely their right to take decisions for their family must be respected - mustn't they?  Well it seems not.  The authorities saw fit to issue a European arrest warrant for the parents, which is normally only used when a person has been charged with a criminal offence, and the parents were arrested in Malaga, Spain.

The reason they were in Malaga was to sell family property, in order to obtain the £100,000 they needed for the proton B treatment for their son.  These were the neglectful parents pursued with the full force (and enormous cost) of the Hampshire constabulary, because a child was at risk of harm.  Although to date no evidence that I can see of the harm has been produced by the authorities, they took the further step of proceedings to make Ashya a ward of court, and continued with proceedings against the parents despite the fact that by this time a groundswell of opinion was that the hospital had overstated the risks to the child (which they admitted, yesterday, during news reports) and the only crime the parents had committed was to want the best for the child.

A "Fight for Ashya King" Facebook group has been set up for the family to support the child, which had 5000 members yesterday and 10,000 today.  A Change.Org petition had been set up, which had 30,000 signatures yesterday and has nearly 100,000 today.  A number of funds have been set up for the family because many people wanted to be able to donate towars the child's treatment, and although the paypal donations have been frozen by paypal, £12,000 has been donated on the Indiegogo fundraiser, which hopefully will help meet some of the costs that the parents are incurring, fighting in court.

For that is what the parents are having to do.  Detained under arrest by police in Malaga, they have had one appearance in court during which they declined to be returned to the UK, and are due for another today.  The judge in Malaga has to decide if there is a case to answer, but unbelievably, the Hampshire constabulary and her majesty's government don't appear to have decided to drop the case in the face of the evidence that they overreacted and sent the hounds after perfectly innocent parents who were trying to do the best for their son.

Unbelievably, although a number of news reports, including one from the Guardian, have started to quote members of the government in support of the parents, the news reports on BBC radio are still reporting as though the parents are guilty of neglect or abuse in a negative way.  Their famed balance and neutrality over issues like this seems to be absent.

It is obvious that questions are going to have to be asked of the doctors, hospital, police and authorities once the dust has settled, because if the parents were not guilty of putting their child at risk - and it seems likely that they were not - then this exercise in opporessing their rights has cost us a lot of money.  We should not be intervening in the rights of a family to choose what they consider to be the best treatment for their child.  Having had a child with a chronic illness, I know how easily a medical expert can pronounce authoratitively on a case, notwithstanding the fact that an equally qualified expert gave the opposite opinion - in the end the parents have to decide whether the hospital is offering the best option for their child, and if not, find that option elsewhere.  Which is all they did.

I hope that questions are asked about this family's treatment.  They aren't the only family struggling with injustice but they have garnered a lot of support and publicity because it is so evident that an injustice has occurred.  I hope the Biritsh government can admit its mistake and free them today, because the idea of a little boy, terminally ill in hospital, without the parents who love him, is breaking our hearts.

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