Nick Clegg calls for Ashya King to be reunited with his parents

The case of Ashya King, the little boy with a brain tumour, brings into sharp focus an ethical dilemma where expert, official, police and parent may come into conflict while each trying to do their best for a desperately ill child. When he disappeared, the hospital was rightly concerned for his safety, knowing that he needed specialist care. As it seems to have turned out, the Kings took every precaution to provide Ashya what he needed while seeking what they believe to be a better treatment in another country.

Nick Clegg has now called for Brett and Naghemeh King to be allowed to see their son, and that it is not appropriate to throw the full force of the law at them, for trying to do what is best for their child.

It is very unclear whether any criminal act has been committed, and the criminal procedures initiated when Ashya was simply missing, are, with hindsight, no longer appropriate. The hospital and the CPS seem to be reconsidering their position, as they should, but in the meantime a sick child is being denied access to his parents.

Meanwhile there is good theoretical reason to believe the proton beam is a better form of radiotherapy than high energy X rays, because it can be aimed to deliver a greater proportion of its energy to the target, and less to the healthy tissues above and below it. This doesn’t prove that it is a better treatment for any particular cancer but it does justify research, and here we meet another ethical dilemma. It is rarely obvious from initial studies that a new treatment is better, so different medical authorities are likely to adopt a new treatment at different rates. Adopt too early and you may invest heavily in something that turns out to be ineffective. Adopt too late and you deny patients the best treatment available.

While it is possible for parents, desperate for shreds of hope, to believe in anything they find on the unreliable internet, it is also possible for parents, researching diligently, to becomes as well-informed about a particular rare condition as clinicians are. And if they discover that a medical authority another country has adopted a new treatment which the UK has not, it is no longer a question of doubting the experts, but of which experts you doubt.

This is the context in which the patient (or in this case the parents of the patient) is able to choose which doctor to see, and this is the choice the Kings are exercising. The NHS has even been reformed over the last decade or so to give patients a greater choice of hospital. How than can we reasonably refuse the exercise of choice in this case? Were they choosing homeopathy or some other such quackery, different arguments should prevail, but the proton beam is not quackery, it is an effective treatment whose advantages over X-rays are disputed.

There is a danger that force of the law is being stubborn to discourage the next parents, who may not be so well prepared to travel with a sick child, or may be seeking a clearly less effective treatment. And there is a danger that our medical authorities wish to resist a free-for-all in which everybody seeks to travel for the latest treatment and late adoption (which may sometimes be justified) is never tolerated. These are not good reasons to persecute the Kings.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017 and Doncaster North in December 2019 and is a councillor in Sheffield.

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  • Richard Dean 2nd Sep '14 - 5:16pm

    What a cynical manipulator of emotion Clegg has become. And Boris has now weighed in too.

    This situation was created by the rules and responsibilities that politicians have assigned to the various actors involved – medical staff, police, hospital finance administrators, judiciary, and indeed parents. If something’s wrong with those assignments, then politicians should be looking to find out what, not taking sides in this way.

    If, in spite of this, they feel the outcome of this particular case should be different, they should use the proper channels, which is presumably through legal representation of the King family.

    Having politicians determine what the best treatment is for a very sick child, on the basis of what plays best to the gallery, is not exactly a good way forward.

  • I seem to remember many of the supporters of the European Arrest Warrant, no names no pack drill, suggesting it would only bring goods things for the UK.

    Here we now have the impotent British CPS backpedalling on the issuing of it under pressure, whilst innocent Britons will remain rotting in a Spanish jail, until the Spanish judicary decide if they have a case to answer. We now have no input on the outcome, whilst at the same time they are denied access to their child in what might be the last few months of life.

    Perhaps you european integrationists might pause , and put your brains in gear the next time you gleefully agree to hand over British competences under the bogus claim that it is all for the greater good.

    Is anybody today defending this state of affairs, or are we all hiding away until it all blows over. Perhaps Tim Farron could justify this arrest as part of his slavish adherence to the EAW, which was possibly introduced with the best of intentions, but as per usual the law of unintended consequences clicks in.

    It was near certain that the EAW would be abused by petty minded officials at the earliest opportunities, as numerous examples have shown in the past, but do you ever learn anything from past mistakes, not in this lifetime you don’t.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Sep '14 - 6:27pm

    “Yawn” = Somebody has done the wrong thing and his supporters don’t want to admit it.

  • Helen Dudden 2nd Sep '14 - 7:35pm

    When I had problems with an ongoing situation on international law and a child, Don Foster and Nick Clegg took little interest.

    I think it appears to be what makes headlines.

    Bet this does not get printed.

  • Jayne Mansfield 2nd Sep '14 - 8:00pm

    @ Richard Dean,
    It isn’t cynical to state that this child should have its parents with it whilst ill. If necessary they could be at the bedside with supervision.

    The issues about treatment can be aired at length but the parents should be re-united with their sick child. Smiling, caring strangers are no substitute.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Sep '14 - 8:27pm

    @Jayne Mansfield
    It’s cynical to use this case in an attempt to gain popularity. Indeed, if this had been on UK soil, Clegg may now have been in contempt of court! The proper action would have been to make sure consular staff were strongly motivated to assist in the interactions needed with the Spanish legal system. Let’s hope this at least has been done.

    If Clegg is allowed to comment on a matter currently progressing through the legal system, then I suppose LDV can too. In my view it is utterly crazy to take a child out of hospital six days after a brain operation, and utterly crazy to attempt a 1000 mile journey without medical backup. Even if you think you know what the machines do, you probably can’t be certain, and you probably wouldn’t know what to do if some form of relapse occurred on the journey. Taking the child in this way was a reckless exposure to danger, and the fact that a relapse didn’t happen doesn’t change that.

    In my view Malaga is not on a direct route to the Czech Republic, it’s about 1000 miles away from a direct route. In my experience you can’t sell a house in Spain in a few days, and even with a massively low price you won’t get the money that quick. If the parents had been sensible, they’d have sold the house,, then arranged for the child to be transported to the Czech Republic by proper means – car if okayed by doctors, but more probably an ambulance.

    I don’t think my view is peculiar or odd . But these considerations do suggest that there was some kind of major mis-communication between medical staff and parents that needs explaining.

    In my view the police acted in the best interests of the child, given the limited information they were given and the clear risk to the child. Being arrested isn’t a big deal. The issue now is the Spanish legal system, which is unlikely to bow to pressure from a British DPM. The best way Clegg and Boris can help is to shut up, and make sure the consular staff have all the information and resources they need to do their job.

  • Helen Dudden 2nd Sep '14 - 8:40pm

    At A fairly recent meeting on law, I spoke about the problems of children and international law. Not one of your MP’s are in the All Party on International Child Abduction.

    International Arrest Warrants were never the best idea, again, supported by your Party, this problem should have resolved sooner, did no one see the family were very unhappy?

    I feel much sympathy for this family, but, some support should have been in place. Children are a very emotional issues, in child abduction and obviously within this subject too.

    As I said at the meeting where Simon Hughes was present, our Government does not take seriously these issues. This only goes to prove just that.

  • I find diagnosis by media, including this thread rather futile. As I understand it the parent took the child from the hospital without stating their intention on that day. The child was being treated by the Hospital doctors who, as far as I can ascertain are more medically competent than either the parents or the media. Obviously they are not infallible but we can assume that the child was provided with all the resources available by specialists who were doing their best. Of course the parents, desperate for a cure look for alternatives and it is their right to seek them privately if they disagree with current medical advice and are able to afford it.. I am sure that the child could/should have been formally discharged from hospital in such circumstances. Why didn’t the parents avail themselves of this procedure rather than cause the current situation?

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Sep '14 - 10:52am

    @ Brian’s,
    Perhaps the parents were afraid that the child would be made a Ward of Court.

    I think that now the parents have been re-united with their child, a cool investigation into what exactly led to the current situation can be carried out. In the meantime, I am happy to assume that everyone concerned was attempting to do their best for a sick child.

  • Richard Dean 3rd Sep '14 - 1:29pm

    I think some of the difficulties that underlie this case can be gleaned from Aysha’s father’s words: “They were going to kill him, or turn him into a vegetable”.

  • @ joe Otten. I am not suggesting anything of the kind. There is a procedure which involves parents accepting written responsibility on behalf of the child in withdrawing it from hospital. Hospital Authorities are professionals dedicated to the care of patients JO uses the term to imply an authoritarian organisation – they also have a child protection obligation or should we forget this except when we need someone to blame? Why is it necessary to invent a possible scenario for which there is no shred of evidence to justify the parents’ actions which precipitated this situation? Could it be that working class parents can be irresponsible but those able to pay big bucks aren’t? The Southampton hospital were prepared to go along with the self funded treatment anyway!!

  • Jerry Lonsdale 3rd Sep '14 - 7:38pm

    While I am pleased that the case of Ashya King has made global news it has sadly also shown the world just how wrong the state can be, and, from reading the latest on this matter the State continue to do so, there are a few prominent MP’s whom for nearly the past decade have been shouting from the roof tops that these issues happen on an almost daily basis, sadly those shouts still face deaf ears, if in the next few months the Lib Dems and all other parties would address the state knows best philosophy we would hopefully never see a situation like this again, I know that the UKIP party are holding a conference about forced adoption and children in care, I would hope the Lib Dems would do similar, Speak to John Hemming MP he will give you any info on these matters

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Sep '14 - 8:31pm

    I have been writing for sometime on the subject of child abduction and illegal retention, and just how badly some of these cases fare.

    One more, is Beth Alexander and her twin boys in Vienna, I know from personal experience just how things go wrong. Unless, the MP’s within your Party take their roles seriously, then how do some stand out there with postcode lottery?

    I did speak up about the matter at a very recent meeting on law, that Simon Hughes attended.

  • stuart moran 4th Sep '14 - 6:44am

    I am bemused by this discussion, as I have found the whole situation

    Firstly, I think there is justifiable concern that the two parents found themselves in prison and this shows some of the problems with arrest warrants (whether within the EU or with the US) that were highlighted at the time

    The authorities really need to look at whether the processes are really fit for purpose – in this case I think the answer would be no

    On the other point though, I find the media-led knee-jerk in criticising the treatment given and offered to this child by the hospital rather concerning. The hospital professionals work within budgets and have to balance that against the efficacy of a treatment when proposing it. These decisions are made daily and are part of the day to day working of the NHS – is anyone here proposing we allow any treatment to be given on the demand of the patient or the parents?

    Seems a lot on the right of politics are arguing this – clinical decisions made by parents and not professionals. It all fits into the frustrating tendency in this country to take the side of the ‘amateur’ rather than the ‘professional’. The principle is important.

    As to who said what to whom and how the situation actually arose – we don’t know. The doctors are saying very little (good for them I say) whilst the parents are making a lot of allegations but nobody really knows what transpired in reality and so we should avoid taking one side or another on what has been said. In the case of determining the best clinical treatment I always have to side with the professionals – if I didn’t then why have them or consult them? If they are shown to have been negligent then deal with that but until then I would take the judgement of a doctor over that of a clearly emotionally involved parent

  • “Seems a lot on the right of politics are arguing this – clinical decisions made by parents and not professionals. It all fits into the frustrating tendency in this country to take the side of the ‘amateur’ rather than the ‘professional’. The principle is important.”

    But if you pushed that principle too far you would end up taking away people’s right to refuse medical treatment. Surely, for liberals, that right is essential.

    When the treatment is being refused on behalf of someone else, there is obviously a difference. But shouldn’t there be a presumption the parents do have that right, in the absence of a court order, and unless there is a real medical emergency?

    And to suggest the parents have acted criminally in those circumstances is something else again. Nothing I’ve read about this case suggests there was any malice on the parents’ part, or that they didn’t believe they were acting in the child’s best interests. Surely the question of criminal proceedings should never have arisen.

  • stuart moran 4th Sep '14 - 4:12pm


    Nowhere did I mention that people must always follow medical advice and they can make decisions for themselves. How far this applies to parents and children is not so clear, and fortunately cases like this are rare.

    The argument I am making though is that the parents have set there heart on a treatment which the clinicians have decided doesn’t give value for money with respect to the benefits. As far as I am aware the NHS is not an ‘on-demand’ service – and if that is what the people like the Mail are suggesting then I am awaiting the tax rises to allow it.

    If they want to pay themselves for private treatment wherever then that is up to them – it is not compulsory to follow NHS advice.

    What I do see though is a tendency to believe that the parents opinion carries more weight than the clinicians on what the appropriate treatment is – I for one do not accept this argument and the publicly funded body should go with the view of the experts

    I tend to agree with you on the way the parents were treated (read my first paragraph above) but I am not convinced we have been told the whole story on why the child ended up in Spain (why Spain when the treatment was to be carried out in Prague?) and so I reserve judgement on whether the child was in danger. I fully agree that there was no malice on their part but it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t wrong to take him out of hospital. An overland trip to Spain (in the opposite direction from where they were heading for) with no indication of any plans for his treatment in the interim may could have been judged enough to react in this way

    The criminal proceedings are the result of the arrest warrant and flaws in this have been pointed out since it was introduced. This is the mechanism that is in place though so I don’t think the authorities had any other option if they thought the child was in potential danger. Whether the authorities over reacted depends on what actually happened – remember they have duty of care for the child – and I do not believe any of us know what actually was done or said – we have only really heard the parent’s side.

    The authorities have been condemned for not acting in many cases recently, and in this one for over-reacting. Not an easy job to do …….

  • “What I do see though is a tendency to believe that the parents opinion carries more weight than the clinicians on what the appropriate treatment is”

    I think you’re missing the point I made.

    I wasn’t arguing that patients (or parents) have a better idea than clinicians “what the appropriate treatment is”.

    I was arguing that for liberals patients must have the right to refuse the “appropriate treatment”, and that in the absence of a court order or a genuine emergency the presumption must be that parents have that right too.

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