Alistair Burt MP: One little boy and a big dilemma

Alistair Burt
Alistair Burt

I suspect there are few readers who were not caught up in the recent drama of little Ashya King whose parents disagreed with medical experts about his condition, and chose to remove him from hospital.

This sparked an Interpol hunt, leading to the parents’ arrest and imprisonment, while the boy himself was put in a foreign hospital far away from them.

The story is a complex one, which highlights a number of modern dilemmas. What are the responsibilities of the hospital? To provide the best possible care for a serious condition. There will be times when there is a clash of opinions, and a new phenomenon of course is the internet.

This is replacing the old one of concerned patients turning to medical textbooks to work out their own diagnosis, and, based often on partial knowledge out of context, jumping to the wrong conclusion. But the internet is much more accessible, and fuller of information, with greater risk.

This issue is further complicated by the modern challenge to any authority. Why should doctors always be right, goes the argument, strengthened by every medical error in the country being amplified through the news media.

On the other side is the perceived risk to a child, which holds that authority must be right, and parents wrong, whenever there is a clash. This is then reinforced by a police and legal process, which once started, with a child’s best interests at heart, pursues a rigid course which ends in the absurdity of decent parents in handcuffs and a lonely five year old surrounded by guards in a hospital.

This cried out for a common sense, conciliatory approach. I hope lessons are learned.