LONDON (AP) — The parents of a child suffering from a severe brain tumor signaled Monday they would defy efforts to force them to return to Britain, days after their family fled to seek a novel kind of radiation treatment for the 5-year-old boy.
A Spanish judge ordered Brett and Naghemeh King held for 72 hours while documents are translated and doctors are consulted. After that, the judge could extend their time in detention or release them.
The family had fled to Spain in hopes of selling a property to obtain enough cash for a new treatment in the Czech Republic or the United States they hope will help their child. Police pursued them and issued an arrest warrant on suspicion of neglect after Southampton General Hospital realized their patient — 5-year-old Ashya King –was gone, without their consent.
British authorities have made no apology for the warrant and travelled to Spain to question the couple. Assistant Chief Constable Chris Shead, of Hampshire Constabulary, has said he would rather be criticized for “being proactive” than “potentially having to explain why a child has lost his life.”
The case has riveted Britain, which is proud of a health service that offers universal care. But the saga has also raised volatile questions of how much power authorities should have in interfering in some of the most sensitive of questions — and whether it has the right to insist that treatment dictates be followed.
Even Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman weighed in on the matter Monday, saying people all over the country have been moved by the family’s plight.
Television images have shown the Kings being loaded into a Spanish squad car in handcuffs. When asked by the BBC on their views, the couple told the reporter they are just trying to help their child.
They are both Jehovah’s Witnesses, but there has been no indication they raised any religious issue about the boy’s treatment.
Ashya’s grandmother told the BBC that it was an “absolute disgrace” that her son and daughter-in-law were accused of child neglect.
“They (the authorities) are the ones who are cruel because they have taken poor little Ashya who is dying of a brain tumor and they won’t let the parents, my son and daughter-in-law, they won’t let them see him at all,” Patricia King said. “It’s terrible. It is so cruel it is unbelievable.”
The family has criticized Britain’s health care system, saying he has a serious tumor that needs an advanced treatment option called proton beam therapy and that it wasn’t being made available to him.
In a statement posted on YouTube before their arrest, the family took its case to the public after seeing their names and photographs posted on the Internet. The father, Brett King, said he feared being put under a restraining order after he disputed his doctors’ advice using research on the matter he gleaned on the Internet.
“They looked at me, straight in the face, and said with his kind of cancer, which is called a medulloblastoma, it would have no benefit whatsoever,” he said as he cradled his sick child on his lap. “Well, I went straight back to my room and looked it up, and the American sites and French sites and Swiss sites where they have proton beam, said the opposite, that it would be very beneficial for him.”
Proton beam therapy is a targeted type of radiation treatment that increases the chance of killing cancer cells by sending a higher dose of radiation directly to the tumor.
Unlike other types of cancer treatment, it doesn’t indiscriminately kill surrounding healthy tissue, so there could be fewer long term effects.
In Britain, proton beam therapy is currently only available to treat certain patients with cancer in their eyes. Other countries, including the U.S., Switzerland and Japan, also use proton beam therapy to treat cancers of the spinal cord, brain, prostate, lung and those that affect children.
Britain’s health department announced in 2011 it will build two treatment centers to make proton beam therapy available in London and Manchester from 2018. Until those facilities open, Britain will pay for patients eligible for the therapy to go to the U.S. and Switzerland for treatment.
It wasn’t immediately clear why health care officials didn’t make this option available to Aysha.
Associated Press writers Jorge Sainz in Madrid and Maria Cheng in London contributed to this story.
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