Judge overrules mother over cancer treatment for seven-year-old Neon Roberts

Doctor said highly likely that Neon Roberts would die within relatively short period' without further surgery, but mother wanted more expert advice

A seven-year-old cancer sufferer is due to have life-saving surgery today after a High Court judge intervened to order the operation against his mother’s wishes.

Neon Roberts is likely to die by next spring unless doctors act urgently to remove his brain tumour, the court heard. Mr Justice Bodey said that he had sympathy for Neon’s mother Sally, who took her son into hiding earlier this month because she objected to planned radiotherapy treatment and does not want him to undergo surgery. However, the judge concluded that the operation was in the boy’s best interests, adding that: “We do not have the luxury of time”.

Mrs Roberts, 37, and Neon were found safe and well on December 6th after a nationwide manhunt. But the Family Division of the High Court heard today that Mrs Roberts had changed her mind about the surgery, having given consent on Monday. She told the court: “I feel I need more expert opinion on it before proceeding.”

Neon has already undergone one operation, but doctors said that he still had a residual tumour and more surgery was needed “urgently”. They said it was “highly likely” that he would die within a “relatively short period” of two to three months if the operation was not carried out.

Mrs Roberts’ estranged husband Ben, 34, submitted a statement to the court expressing his wish that the surgery should go ahead.

Speaking after Mrs Roberts took his son into hiding, Mr Roberts said he believed she wanted to do “everything she can and rely on natural remedies and things that are not too invasive, rather than radiotherapy and chemotherapy”.

“Personally, I want everything for him...All the evidence I have been presented with has told me he needs to have that therapy, but I am also aware there are side effects. It concerns me as well.”

Mr Justice Bodey has also been asked to rule on whether Neon should undergo radiotherapy treatment following surgery and will hear more evidence on Thursday before making any ruling.

He said that no one could fail to be sympathetic with Ms Roberts, who was seeking an adjournment yesterday in order to instruct a new legal team, but said that she did not accept evidence from cancer experts, including a second opinion obtained on her behalf. The judge said the need for surgery, which the court heard carries a 15 to 25 per cent of leaving Neon mute, was “extremely urgent”.

Q&A: How the decision is made

Q. Why can’t parents decide what treatment their children have?

A. They can, as long as doctors agree with their decision.

Q. What happens when doctors and parents can’t agree?

A. Normally, the doctor will arrange a second opinion. This appears to be what happened with Neon Roberts. However, the second doctor agreed surgery was required – whereupon his mother, Sally, demanded further opinions.

Q. Who has the final say?

A. Doctors should make every effort to win the consent of parents to the treatment they propose for the child. If agreement cannot be reached, the case must be decided by the courts.

Q. What about the child’s view?

A. Doctors, and ultimately the courts, will take account of a child’s view, depending on their “maturity”.

Jeremy Laurance

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