The parents of a cancer-stricken boy were behind bars in Spain and facing extradition to Britain on Monday after taking their son from an English hospital without doctors’ consent to seek advanced medical treatment abroad.
Ashya King, 5, was diagnosed with brain cancer this year and underwent emergency surgery to remove the tumor, a medulloblastoma. His father, Brett King, says he was unhappy with the follow-up radiation and chemotherapy that British doctors prescribed.
King and his wife, Naghmeh, took their son from Southampton General Hospital on Thursday, sparking an international search for the family. The Hampshire police obtained a European arrest warrant for the couple on the grounds of child neglect. The Kings were arrested in Malaga, Spain, on Sunday.
Afterward, a video was posted to YouTube in which Brett King explains that he’d taken Ashya to receive an innovative treatment known as proton beam therapy, which Britain’s National Health Service, or NHS, provides only for eye cancers.
“I just want positive results for my son,” King says in the video, recorded shortly before his arrest. “I just please ask, call off this ridiculous chase.... My son’s smiling. He’s happy. We’re doing things as a family with him. We just want to be left in peace. He’s very sick. I just want to get on with his treatment, and I’m not coming back to England if I cannot give him the treatment I want. Which is proper treatment, not a little bit of chemotherapy.”
King says British doctors told him proton beam therapy would not help Ashya. “Well, I went straight back to my room and looked it up, and the American sites and French sites and Swiss sites where they have proton beam said the opposite, that it would be very beneficial for him.”
Medical experts say proton beam therapy can be less damaging than traditional radiation because the treatment can be focused more precisely within the body. The NHS says the therapy is “particularly suitable to specific complex childhood cancers.”
Several proton beam therapy centers are under development in Britain. In the meantime, the NHS provides funding for treatment abroad in certain cases.
King said he researched several proton beam therapy clinics in the U.S. and Europe. He said he eventually settled on the Proton Therapy Center in Prague, Czech Republic, and is willing to pay for the treatment.
But he says doctors in Britain refused to help him and said if he continued to question their judgment they would obtain a court order to prevent him and his wife from visiting their son in the hospital.
After his parents’ arrest, Ashya spent part of Monday alone in a Spanish hospital room under police guard. His eldest brother, Danny King, was eventually allowed entry.
The case has provoked concern among the British public that the family is being treated unfairly. The video, one among several posted online by Naveed King, Ashya’s older brother, has prompted a flurry of responses on social media. Naveed has established a PayPal account to receive donations.
At a hearing Monday in Madrid, the couple refused to accept extradition to Britain. A judge ordered they be held for a maximum of 72 hours as he considered their request for bail. It remains unclear whether they’ve broken any laws or will be charged with any crime.
The family rejects accusations of child neglect. In another YouTube video posted late Sunday, Naveed King holds up a box of medical food bags and an electrical adaptor that powered Ashya’s feeding tube during the car ride from England to Spain. He says the family had everything that the hospital did to care for Ashya.
Hampshire police defended their actions, saying they were told Ashya’s life was in danger.
Dr. Michael Marsh, the head of the NHS Trust that operates Southampton General Hospital, confirmed that the hospital staff discussed proton beam therapy with the Kings but reiterated that the treatment is not for all types of tumors.
“We acknowledge what was already a very difficult situation for Ashya and his family has become even more stressful and challenging,” Marsh told the BBC in a television interview. “In Ashya’s case, we really regret that the communication and relationship broke down to the extent that the family lost trust in the team that were caring for him.”
Werth is a special correspondent.