The day I took my son ‘without consent’

Ashya King (5) has been found with his parents in southern Spain. He’s safe, but unwell, with a brain tumour that was previously treated at Southampton General Hospital. His parents took him out of hospital on Thursday, apparently against medical advice.

He was not taken ‘without consent’ as was claimed by Hampshire Constabulary and widely reported by mainstream print and broadcast media. Without a court order, hospitals have no legal authority to give or deny consent to parents or legal guardians taking a child away.

Ashya King

Ashya King (Handout from Hampshire Police)

Ashya is seriously ill. He needs pain relief, ongoing feeding by a special machine, and urgent treatment for his tumour. It is understandable – and welcome – that our authorities should take an interest in his welfare. But the people with primary responsibility for his care are his parents, not the State. The intervention of the State is only required if there is evidence that Ashya’s parents are not meeting his needs.

My understanding is that Ashya was not formally discharged from hospital by his parents. They would not have signed forms to absolve the hospital of further responsibility for his care. So the hospital authorities were in an awkward limbo where their paperwork suggested they remained responsible for Ashya’s care, but did not have him in on their premises.

Given this scenario (or similar), they called on the police to get him back. When it was established the family had left the UK, a European Arrest Warrant was issued and the family was eventually found in Velez Malaga on Saturday evening when hotel staff recognised the parents from media reports.

Earlier, Ashya’s father Brett posted this video on YouTube, in which he called on the police to “call off this ridiculous chase.”

In the video Mr King explains that Ashya’s needs (outlined above) were being met, and further explains why he withdrew his son from hospital. His explanation suggests it was Hobson’s Choice, ie no choice at all. Listening only to his side of the story, it is difficult to disagree. Unfortunately, due to issues of patient confidentiality, we are unlikely to hear – in detail – the hospital’s side of the story, and so Mr King’s accusations against the hospital must be treated with caution.

Given the apparent facts of the case, it seems to me doctors were right to be concerned for Ashya’s welfare, the police were right to seek to find him, and Ashya’s parents made a reasonable judgement call in trekking him across France and Spain for further/better treatment. Strictly speaking, I understand they needed to release money from their business interests in Spain before buying treatment elsewhere.

At the time of writing, Ashya’s parents remain under arrest in Spain, while Ashya himself is being treated at a hospital in Malaga. I hope this is a (brief) temporary arrangement until it can be established that the events of the past few days were not ‘maltreatment’ (as per the arrest warrant). The King video cannot answer this. Hopefully the police will be able to establish the facts very quickly, so the family can reunite.

I got into a little trouble once…

My son Caleb was a day old, and a few hours. His mum was weak and tired and needed peace to sleep in her maternity bed. I needed coffee. And – as a dad perceives it – Caleb needed to see the world.

So I took him out of the maternity unit to a Costa café in the same hospital building. A jolly hour we shared together: Caleb mostly sleeping whilst being admired by fellow patrons, and me mostly drinking coffee and staring at my boy.

Soon we returned to the maternity unit, waiting to be buzzed in through the security door.

Then we were confronted by anxious officialdom. I shouldn’t have taken him out of the unit, apparently. I shouldn’t have taken him without consent, and certainly not before he had been discharged. I had broken hospital procedures.

I apologised.

I shouldn’t have apologised. No-one had previously instructed me not to take my own son out of the maternity unit. If there are procedures, they are there for the hospital to uphold. It’s not for me, the father, to follow hospital procedures, unless I’ve already shown that I understand and accept these.

I do have a responsibility not to remove someone else’s child from the maternity unit. Clearly that would be abduction, and the hospital procedures are in place, at least partly, to ensure that does not happen. But if that is perceived as a threat, then security is the responsibility of the hospital, not of an abductor, or in this case the father.

With hindsight, when challenged, I should not have apologised to the unhappy midwife. I should have been openly concerned. Why were the procedures not upheld? Why were they not more robust? Why was a dodgy-looking man (me) allowed to remove a newborn infant from a ‘secure’ maternity unit?

I was accused of taking Caleb away without consent. He’s my son – no consent needed.

Back to Ashya…

It is heartbreaking to see what this family is going through; so much suffering for a little boy, just five-years-old. While there is much public support for the family’s behaviour, there is also a great deal of criticism. We should avoid judgement until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

Sunday’s police statement, from Hampshire Constabulary – click here

Sunday’s hospital statement, from University Hospital Southampton:

Our priority has always been Ashya’s welfare and we are delighted that he has been found. We are now working closely with colleagues in Malaga to ensure he receives the essential medical support he needs.

“We are aware of the comments made online by his father. Throughout Ashya’s admission we have had conversations about the treatment options available to him and we had offered the family access to a second opinion, as well as assistance with organising treatment abroad.

“We understand how distressing this situation is for everyone involved, particularly Ashya’s family. We will continue to do what we can to support them and assist the police in providing any information they require.

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