The parents of five-year old brain-tumour patient Ashya King are currently fighting extradition to the UK as they strive to get their son access to a treatment not available to him on the National Health Service.
Despite having broken no laws, an international search was launched after Brett and Naghemeh King took their son from Southampton Hospital without consent from doctors to seek treatment elsewhere.
They were taken into police custody in Spain, where they remain, after intending to sell an apartment there to fund treatment with the targeted radiotherapy proton beam therapy (PBT) in Prague, Czech Republic..
PBT uses beams of protons instead of X-rays to irradiate diseased tissue, enabling more precise treatment that is less harmful to surrounding healthy tissue.
In the UK, PBT is only available to treat eye cancers, but in some cases the NHS will fund the treatment of other cancers abroad. Ashya was being given chemotherapy and radiotherapy in Southampton, but, according to the family, doctors reportedly refused to permit PBT on grounds that there is no evidence he would benefit from it.
“We’re not oblivious, his life will be shorter than most kids, but we want his quality of life to be the best,” one of Ashya’s brothers, Naveed King, told the BBC. “We’ve done so much research on all treatment that is available to Ashya – I know that side effects for the proton beam therapy are less and he would have more or less a normal life if he received that treatment. We know it’s not a miracle treatment”.
As Ashya was not a Ward of Court the Kings broke no laws removing their son from hospital. But a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service told the Guardian it had applied for the arrest warrant on Friday “at the request of Hampshire police for an offence of cruelty to a person under the age of 16 years”.
The case - and in particular the police response to it - has sparked public outrage, with more than 82,000 patients in the UK now having signed a petition for the release of Mr and Mrs King, who now remain separated from Ashya for the third day. It also raises ethical questions over how much power the state and doctors should have versus that of parents when its comes to making decisions on the medical treatment of children.