‘So their son can get the care…he needs’.
The TV reporter’s final line echoed the advice of Hampshire’s assistant chief constable – that Ashya King’s parents should return their five year old son to Southampton General Hospital, where he had been receiving treatment for cancer and for the severe after-effects of a successful operation to remove a brain tumour.
The way the reporter signed off – his intonation, the grain of his voice – invited ‘Amen’ at the end; as if godlike status is due to the ineffable combination of Police and theNHS.
Brett and Neghemeh King believe in a different god: they are Jehovah’s Witnesses who removed son Ashya from Southampton hospital and took him to their holiday home in Spain. They hoped to sell this property and use the funds to pay for proton beam treatment in Prague – cancer treatment currently unavailable in the UK, which Southampton doctors declared would be useless in Ashya’s case.
But the abduction of Ashya became a top priority – for police officers as well as journalists. His parents were arrested in Spain on Saturday evening and sent to prison. Ashya is now alone in a Spanish hospital.
Far from sacred, the behaviour of UK ‘healthcare professionals’ invites profanity. In a different case, the mother of a boy who was eventually granted NHS funds for proton beam treatment in Oklahoma, USA, reported ‘a bit of a carrot-dangling situation’ in which she was informed that her son might get the grant but funding would be refused if a younger patient came along. In Ashya’s case, Brett King says he was warned about an emergency protection order – his son being taken into care – if he continued to question his treatment; this despite disagreement among Southampton doctors over ‘the Milan protocol’ of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
In a video posted on YouTube by Ashya’s elder brother, Naveed, Brett King explains why he took his son out of the country, and how he made extensive preparations to ensure continuity of care while in transit (iron supplements, drip feed, an adaptor to runthe drip feed machine off the car battery). King also gives an account of his dealings with Southampton hospital which sounds like a tyranny of informality (unanswered letters and emails and no doubt a policy of transparency), followed by outright coercion (see it our way or you won’t be allowed to see your son).
Responding (even as mere observers) to the grotesque nature of such encounters (empty and soulless but grimly serious at the same time), it is tempting to invest divine significance in the prone form of Ashya King. A world of saintly sadness seems to be contained in his slow-moving eyes; but that is his illness talking, not Ashya himself; and it’s not really us that’s listening, more like the victim culture we have become accustomed to.
Better we attune ourselves to Brett. Not for divine grace (not unless you really have to think of it that way); more that in a moment of stillness (bare hotel room, speaking to camera, before the Spanish police stopped them as they tried to continue their journey), a father’s low key explanation of how and why he acted on behalf of his family, is something like the sound of our common humanity.