Persecuted for loving their child too much!

News of the King Family continues to dominate in Europe and especially in the United Kingdom. I have followed it with keen interest since it first broke. As a South African British national, I feel compelled to give my two cents worth from the other side of the world and to make you, the discerning reader aware of the media bias that surrounds this story.  

Brett and Naghemeh King were only doing what they felt was in the best interests of their child, five year old Ashya King. Having just been operated (7 days prior) for Stage four cancer in the form of a brain tumour, the Doctors had concluded that there was nothing else they could do. It was the Doctors’ suggestion that the young man be given radiotherapy and chemotherapy. At such a young age, the chances of him being brain damaged even further, losing his ability to see, talk and feed himself, was a reality. Faced with this disheartening news, the King family sought to research other less aggressive medical options that might be available for their son. Having narrowed this down to a treatment called Proton Beam Therapy (PBT), they requested this from the Doctors at the Hospital where Ashya was being treated. PBT in a nutshell, is a form of radiotherapy that simply targets the actual position of the tumour allowing the surrounding tissue to be left undamaged. The overall result being fewer harmful side effects and more direct impact on the actual tumour. The patient feels nothing during treatment. Side effects such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea are minimised. Generally, the patient experiences a better quality of life during and after proton treatment. There are various cases within the UK of children with brain cancer who have had this treatment - one such case was of a 3 year old boy who now lives a normal, happy life. An argument between Consultants and Parents ensued with the Doctors suggesting that PBT would make little, if any difference to their boy.

Now if you are a Parent (or non-Parent) reading this, what would your reaction be? Having just done the research on PBT, would you simply agree to the Doctors’ recommendation of a treatment that could cause your child to end up in a vegetable-like state OR would you aim to do the best for your child? The NHS (free) hospital in the United Kingdom have previously permitted other children to be sent overseas in order to have this treatment (administered and paid for by the NHS). Treatment costs in the region of approximately R1 million. The Kings did not have this money lying around so they decided to sell one of their Properties in Spain in order to fund the treatment on a private basis at a hospital in Prague, Czech Republic. When they mentioned this to the Consultants, they were threatened with Court intervention that would prevent them essentially from having any say in their child’s treatment.

Again, I ask you as a Parent (or non-Parent) reading this, what would your reaction be? The treatment is available, you are willing to sell your material possessions to make sure your child gets PBT (even if the outcome might not be successful). What’s R1 million on a child’s life when there’s a chance he will live AND when you have the funds available? So like any other loving Parent, Brett King decided to remove his son from the Hospital and to take him to the Continent for alternative treatment that he was willing to pay for. But this was no rash decision. He ensured that all the food the young man needed (which he was being fed through tubes) was available, that a charger attached to the car so that the feeding mechanism could work was bought, he did all the research possible (barely surviving on almost no sleep), took his six other children and his wife and they set off for Spain. This is where he was due to sign papers for the sale of his property which would finance his son’s medical expenses.

Six hours had passed before the Hospital had notified the Police. They claimed that this terminally ill child who needed “round the clock” care was kidnapped by his Parents and that his life was in danger, that it could be fatal if he was not found within 24 hours (during which time the battery on his feeding tube would have run out). Then began the massive manhunt for the King family. Interpol was alerted, the Court awarded the UK Police with a European Warrant of Arrest for the Parents (admitting however that they did not have any legitimate charges to bring against the Kings) and claiming that there were looking out for the best interests of the child.

In the interim, Brett King had posted a video on YouTube showing that the young man was happier than he had been in hospital, that he was being cared for, showered with love and doing well. Not long after, the Parents were arrested, handcuffed, treated like hardened criminals by the Spanish Police and taken into custody, on the basis of “cruelty” to their child. The child was taken off them, put into a Spanish hospital under Police Guard where neither Parents nor siblings are allowed to visit him! And this would be in the best interest of the child? The Kings in the meantime were treated as vicious criminals for simply loving their child too much – for refusing to accept that there was nothing else that Doctors could do for their child, for giving up their material possessions to ensure that he had access to the best treatment available. For this, they were, are and continue to be persecuted.

On Friday last week, Ashya became the ward of the Court. In essence this means that the Court can decide what medical treatment the little boy will be given. Is this setting a precedent for the treatment of children in future? Do Parents no longer have the right to decide what’s best for their children? Since when does a supposedly civilized society such as the one in the UK behave in such a barbaric manner? The Parents are separated from their dying child by circa 550 kilometres (that’s almost the distance from Durban to Johannesburg) held in Police Custody. Who is being cruel now? How can it possibly be “in the best interests of the child” that a 5 year old dying of cancer cannot hold his mommy’s hand at night.  Naghemeh slept in the Hospital alongside her son during his darkest, most sick moments. Is that indicative of a Parent who neglects and is cruel to their child? Even as adults when we are unwell, almost always our first thoughts are “I want my mommy.” How much more so does this young man dying of cancer need his mommy next to him?

MPs in the UK have openly admitted that it is in the best interest of this child to be reunited with his family but they have been slow to do anything about this. It is now more than 48 hours since they have seen their dying son. Just this morning, Nick Clegg (deputy Prime Minister) said “Throwing the full force of the law at two parents who in a state of despair and anguish are acting they say because that's what they think is best for their child, doesn't seem to me to be the appropriate thing to do.” The British public who have had access to both sides of the story have seen the farce that this truly is. At the very core of this story lies the egos of Consultants who will not admit to lying, the egos of the Police Officers in the UK who will stand by their inhumane treatment of the King family, the egos of Spanish Police who think that they’re doing their UK counterparts a personal favour. I watch and follow the news with utter disgust and contempt for these egotistical, cruel, unkind and arrogant people who think they are some kind of demi-gods!

Every Parent has the right to choose what medical intervention they will accept for their child. It is Naghemeh who carried Ashya for nine months, not the Doctors, neither their cronies in Parliament nor the Police Force. When the news broke out, the media was quick to mention that this was a Jehovah’s Witness family. I found this especially bizarre because when reporting on a murderers, hard-core criminals, abusive Parents, etc., their religion is never mentioned. I have yet to read a news item on a criminal that mentions he is Hindu, Baptist, Jewish or any other faith. Talk about media bias! The media have since backed off mentioning their religion once it was pointed out to them (and rightly so) that their treatment options had absolutely nothing to do with their religion. The operation on the tumour had already been done according to the advice given by the Consultants. Neither radiotherapy/chemotherapy nor PBT has anything to do with the religious convictions of the Parents. Subsequent news reports highlight just how loving, close-knit and well-mannered this family is.

There is currently a petition signed by circa 20,000 people (mostly British) requesting the release of Brett & Naghemeh King from Spanish Prison, that they be reunited with their family and that their son be given the treatment he needs in Prague. We wait anxiously to see what, if anything will be done before the end of today.

Many lessons emerge from this but I would like to hone in on just two of those lessons. Firstly, medical professions do have and will use their power to control the treatment your child receives. Secondly, the power of Social Media in highlighting the plight of the King family has been incredible. The people have spoken and hopefully they will be heard shortly so that this story can have a happy ending for the King family.  They did not break any laws. Their treatment by the Authorities befits hard-core criminals. Yet their crime was simply that they loved their child too much.