Poor treatment: Ashya King's is a tragic case, but doctors should have the final say


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The Independent Online

It took far too long, but at least the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has now come to its senses. The arrest warrant for the parents of Ashya King has been withdrawn, and the seriously ill boy can be re-united with his mother and father. To hold Brett and Naghmeh King under lock and key  in a Spanish jail – when they were so clearly acting out of a desperate desire to help their child – was a decision in which the hand of the law showed itself a little too heavy. Neither the child nor his parents deserved to go through that additional torment. The CPS should be asking questions of itself as to why they went through it at all.

That is not to say that we should ignore the wider issues raised by this case. We are, after all, fortunate in this country to benefit from a health service that, despite the occasional knock, remains the envy of many around  the world.

The increasing emphasis within the NHS on patient choice has also been a welcome development in recent years. As the service’s own literature notes, “modern medicine is more partnership between doctor and patient than ever before”.

In this case, the treatment which the King family coveted for their son is not some sort of new age alternative. Proton beam therapy is a highly advanced technique and is available on the NHS – but only in the treatment of a small proportion of tumours. It is not a cure-all and was clearly not considered appropriate for Ashya King by his consultants.

Video: Petition to reunite Ashya King with parents

Fundamentally, patient choice has to operate within a framework which does not marginalise medical experts from decisions about the appropriateness of treatments. In the internet age, we have information about illnesses and diseases at our fingertips. But we do not become specialists by consulting the blogospere. A patient’s perceived knowledge of the facts should not usually override the experience of doctors. And if that principle is to be maintained, there will be occasions when relevant agencies of the state need the powers to protect vulnerable patients from attempts by relatives to undermine the judgement of professionals.