Monday, December 8, 2014

Parental Rights Challenged During Medical Emergencies

By: Caroline James
Produced & edited by: Olivia Harlow

Stepping off the plane in Spain, the parents of Ashya King were met by Spanish police and arrested. Their sick son was taken and they were detained for child endangerment and suspicion of neglect. While the charges would soon be dropped, international attention had already been called to the King’s story.

Five-year-old Ashya King was diagnosed with the often-fatal medulloblastoma tumor at South Hampton’s Hospital in England. The survival rate of such a diagnosis is 70 percent and the effects of radiation and chemotherapy can be devastating to other internal organs, especially in young patients.
Ashya King being admitted to treatment in Prague. © Independent

British citizens Brett and Naghemeh King wanted their son to undergo proton beam therapy, a treatment that targets the cancerous cells while leaving the surrounding tissue unharmed.
“It zones in on the area, whereby normal radiation passes right through his head and comes out the other side and destroys everything in his head.” Brett King said in an interview with the Guardian.
Proton beam therapy was not available in England or covered by the National Health Service. The Kings would have to sell their home in Spain to pay for the treatment in Prague. Because they could not immediately transfer Ashya to a treatment center, the Southampton General Hospital said they could not endanger Ashya’s recovery by taking him out of treatment. The Prague Motol Hospital said they would immediately start treatment of Ashya if the parents could raise the funds.
In a desperate move, the Kings took Ashya from the hospital against doctor advice. The hospitals reported their fears to the police that Ashya would be medically neglected and suffer from the lack of treatment. This incident set off a storm of international debate concerning parental rights in the face of medical emergencies.

The Prague Family © Dailymail

In recent years, a number of governments have had to reconsider this issue. In many situations where parents challenge traditional medical treatment the law must also consider religious protection laws as well. Certain “faith healing” religions forgo medical treatment in favor of prayer for themselves and their children.
The United States has currently been undoing several religious protection laws to allow for murder charges to be pressed against parents whose refusal to medically treat their children leads to the child’s death.
“Medical treatment must be a higher priority than respecting cultural or religious customs,” Ali Salman, a doctor from Syria, said. “We never considered cultural or religious beliefs when there is harm to human life, including children, during my practice.”
Though some medical professionals feel that religious customs must be respected for the good of the individual as a whole.
“I think the cultural or religious customs should be respected when we talk about medical treatment,” Yi-hui Lee, a doctor from Indonesia, said. “The cultural and religious customs may affect the psycho-social aspects of an individual, and the psycho-social well-being may play significant roles on the health outcomes and the chosen treatment."
The U.N. Declaration of Rights of the Child established that a child is entitled to medical services and protection from neglect. The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights establish that States parties should condemn harmful, unnecessary and religiously motivated medical procedures, such as female genital mutilation.
Religion is not the only reason parents give for not seeking medical treatment for their children. The recent growth of non-vaccination groups cites mistrust of certain medical treatment itself as their main deterrence. Belief that vaccinations are dangerous and cause mental impairment has been growing throughout the world.
Even though all reliable medical reports have refuted such claims, the fear of dangerous vaccinations has kept children from receiving them. It is estimated that over six thousand people have died as a result of parents refusing vaccinations for their children.
The U.S., Latvia, Slovenia, Germany, the Czech Republic and almost all developed countries have compulsory vaccination regulations that require vaccines for children in order to attend public school. Other countries, such as Australia, offer financial benefits to getting children vaccinated.
While the methods may be different, both sides feel that what they are doing is in the best interest of the children. Believers in faith healing genuinely believe that their child will be cured; parents who refuse vaccinations fear that their child will suffer from side effects.
This is also what happened in the situation of Ashya King. Both the King’s and the hospital’s goal was the health and safety of Ashya. The trouble occurred when the same goal was approached differently by the two groups and set off the debate of who had the final say.
As soon as the arrest was made in Italy, prosecutors from England dropped the charges. They cited that they did not want to arrest parents seeking medical care for their child; they just wanted to ensure that medical care was being sought.

The Proton Therapy Center in Prague where Ashya was treated © The Prague Post

“I know that everyone shares my relief that Ashya is now in Prague Motol Hospital,” Fiona Dalton, the Chief Executive of South Hampton’s General Hospital, said on her blog. “Where he will be able to receive the treatment that he needs.”
While these issues will continue to concern both families and lawmakers in decades to come, the King family is free to focus on the care and health of their seven children. Ashya received treatment in Prague and responded well to the proton beam therapy. He was seen in a recent video at the park right before he was discharged from the hospital.
“Taking him out to the park, that’s such a huge thing!” Naveed King, Ashya’s eldest brother, said. “We haven’t actually taken him out since we’ve been here.” 

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