Arrogant doctors and a sinister abuse of power
Published by The Daily Mail (2nd September, 2014)
Ashya King’s parents are not murderers, terrorists or vicious thieves. They are just a couple from Hampshire determined to do the best for their dreadfully-sick son who lies under police guard in a foreign hospital bed, torn from his family.
Although we do not know the full details of the case, it is hard to believe these parents deserve to be treated in such a heartless and humiliating way for the ‘crime’ of loving their child – especially since the worst charge seems to be they cared too much in their determination to save his life.
Tragically, it seems that we may be witnessing the case of a desperate couple being crushed by a pernicious Big Brother state – helpless victims of a lethal combination of medical arrogance, police incompetence and over-reaching European powers.
What a sickening contrast with the terrible failure of public servants to protect hundreds of girls from paedophiles in Rotherham.
For watching the state machine turn with such ferocity on this family, it is impossible not to conclude that the authorities’ behaviour reflects some twisted values in our society.
Consider the facts about the case of Ashya. Initially, police issued an appeal for help in finding a gravely-ill child who had been taken from his hospital bed by his parents.
Accompanying this global alert were sinister-looking mug-shots of his parents and emotional claims that the batteries on the little boy’s specialist feeding equipment would rapidly run out of power.
Yet a very different story soon began to emerge as the family, discovering they were being pursued as child-kidnappers, cleverly used YouTube videos to put their case.
Brett King appeared sitting on a bed with his son – complete with feeding tube – calmly explaining his actions.
The image was painfully familiar to me as the father of a daughter with profound disabilities. Mr King claimed that doctors had refused to listen to the family’s requests to try a new form of cancer-treatment that might cause less brain damage and fewer side-effects.
He was adamant that despite removing Ashya from his hospital bed, his life was not in danger since the family was travelling with the right equipment. What’s more, he said that his son seemed much happier out of hospital. From my experiences over the years with our daughter, this seems entirely believable.
Such was their devotion and desire to save their son’s life, Mr King said they had gone to Spain to sell a property to raise money for the £100,000 cost of the therapy denied by the NHS – by going to a hospital in the Czech Republic.
In sum, the family appear to be doing everything in their power to give their boy more time on this planet.
And if they are correct that a medical dispute ended up with an international manhunt, the actions of doctors, the hospital management, the prosecution service and police have been utterly despicable.
A distressed family has been hounded across Europe, a terminally-ill child torn from his parents and false information dripped into the public realm.
Of course, there are cases when the authorities are duty-bound to intervene when they believe that parents are endangering the well-being of a child.
But this does not appear to be such a case. Instead, we seem to be witnessing a blundering bureaucracy and a sinister abuse of state power.
At its root lies something familiar: the dreadful arrogance of some of the medical profession.
This is something my own family has seen all too often these past two decades while caring for our daughter (one of fewer than 200 known sufferers in the world from a rare genetic disorder named CDKL5); indeed, we cling to the more consensual medics.
Among the worst experiences was the fact her diagnosis was delayed a year after a consultant at a world-famous hospital lost a vital blood test, then lied to cover up his incompetence.
Also, we have found out that risky injections were mistakenly given to our daughter without consent, we’ve had to battle to stop doctors from doing surgery we considered unnecessary and we’ve had to argue with consultants obsessed with their pet treatments. Not surprisingly, we now avoid hospitals unless absolutely necessary.
Some years ago, the outgoing head of the General Medical Council warned doctors that they needed to adapt to a new age of patient-power. Sir Donald Irvine said: ‘There are still some doctors who dislike what they perceive as their authority being questioned. They resent the assertive patient.’
However, the case of Ashya King indicates that for all the talk of patient choice and the steps made to improve training, too many imperious doctors still don’t treat patients with sufficient respect. Sadly, this culture of arrogance is encouraged by the army of second-rate, risk-averse managers in the NHS.
Also, the shockingly dismissive way that anyone who questions authority is dealt with is evident from disturbing examples of whistle-blowers driven out after highlighting poor patient care or systemic failings.
For their part, doctors often grumble about people searching specialist websites and bombarding them with false diagnoses. But in these profound cases, parents often have by far the best grip on their children’s needs – better, dare I say, than many time-pressured medical staff.
Doctors, of course, are highly trusted figures. That’s why it is so distressing when they harness the state machine to crush powerless victims, sometime even resorting to secret courts to get their way.
It’s not just the medical establishment. The full force of the law has been involved in this case, with Portsmouth City Council making Ashya a ward of court, having told a High Court judge he was in ‘serious danger.’
Yet the Crown Prosecution Service has refused to explain that danger publicly. The complicity of the bumbling bureaucratic police in this human tragedy simply adds to the corrosion of public faith.
Needless to say, senior officers and the area’s Police and Crime Commissioner refuse to apologise for branding as ‘child kidnappers’ a distraught family and launching a chase for them across Europe.
How readily they reached for the blunderbuss of the European arrest warrant, which has removed traditional safeguards that might have led someone to question whether this couple was guilty of such heinous crimes to deserve public demonisation.
It is hard not to wonder how it came to pass that this country can criminalise people for caring for gravely-ill relatives and runs a state bureaucracy that seems increasingly devoid of compassion.
If you doubt this, consider the plight of Ashya King as he lies confused in a foreign hospital bed. Then ask who seems really guilty of child cruelty: the parents trying desperately to save their dying son – or the State that has placed them behind bars?