At this moment, a seriously ill child lies in a bed at the Malaga maternity hospital separated from his parents, who on Tuesday were released from a Madrid prison, where they asked the courts to see their son.
It is believed that hospitalization in an unknown environment and far from the family may further compromise the health of the child. But that Deadpoint led to a dramatic saga that has kept the British on edge for days and raises ethical questions as difficult as they are profound.
Who should ultimately decide the treatment of a sick child?
Ashya King, a five-year-old British boy, has a brain tumor. His parents, Brett and Naghemeh King, took the boy from the Southampton hospital in England because they wanted alternative treatment for their son that was not provided by British social health.
The hospital, however, understood that the minor’s life was in danger and requested a court order, after which a European arrest warrant was issued for possible parental negligence.
After declaring before a Spanish judge and refusing to be handed over to the United Kingdom, the parents, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses and have a total of seven children, were arrested last Monday.
Then this Tuesday a judge of the Spanish National Court probably the immediate release of the couple after the British Prosecutor’s Office withdrew the arrest warrant against them.
The decision came after many voices called for his release.
Britain’s deputy prime minister, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, criticized the prosecution, saying the family is «desperate» and is only looking for «the best treatment for their son.»
Nearly 100,000 people also signed an online petition started by 16-year-old Ethan Dallas, a friend of the boy’s brother, which was turned over to the government.
The parents want Ashya to receive proton therapy, a treatment with fewer side effects than the traditional radiation therapy her doctors were proposing.
According to the family’s Spanish lawyer, Juan Isidro Fernández Díaz, the Kings were preparing to sell an apartment they owned in Malaga to pay for proton therapy in the Czech Republic or the United States.
The family uploaded several videos to YouTube to explain their position. One of Ashya’s brothers, Naveed, said that his parents had sought as much information as possible about his brother’s condition.
The medical director of the Southampton hospital, Dr. Michael Marsh, said for his part that he regretted the disagreement with the couple but added that «there is no evidence that proton therapy is going to be beneficial» in the case of the minor.
«Doctors have an ethical duty to ensure the health of their patients, insofar as respect and promotion of human life is a basic ethical imperative of their profession,» Dr. Luis Miguel Pastor García, vice president, told BBC Mundo of the Spanish Association of Bioethics and Medical Ethics (AEBI) and coordinator of the Master’s Degree in Bioethics at the University of Murcia.
Pastor García said that the ideal of any clinical relationship is that trust leads to a «therapeutic alliance», to a consensus between parents and doctors.
«The dilemma arises if the professionals observe that the parents may be carrying out behaviors that may imply abandonment or abuse with respect to a minor. At that moment they have a responsibility to defend the rights of the minor and their interests.»
An informed adult patient can refuse treatment, but «in the case of people without competence to decide, and therefore very vulnerable, with the vital integrity of the patient in danger, it is logical that doctors request the intervention of the judicial power to implement a certain therapy that he considers indicated», said the expert in bioethics.
It is not clear what will happen to Ashya, whose fate is in the hands of justice.
The municipal council of the city of Portsmouth, where the family resided, obtained a temporary order from a court at the request of the hospital, for the minor «to be presented for medical treatment».
But now the same municipal council asked the British justice to end the extradition proceedings so that the parents can be reunited with their son.
«Beyond this particular situation, we know from experience of working with families over the years that removing a seriously ill child from their family has significant physical and emotional consequences,» said Sarah Lindsell of the charity Brain tumor charity.
The petition delivered to the government states that «all parents always want to do the best for their children, and that is what Mr. and Mrs. King are doing.»
Ashya’s case raises questions about the limits of the power of authority, society and institutions over the will of a family.
For Dr. Pastor García, «ultimately, even though all the actors in this conflict act in good faith, in the end a problem must be resolved, not only private but also public, insofar as the life of a minor requires protection by part of society by belonging to the common good of the same».
«In the end it is a problem of justice and to determine the humans -with their limits- we only have the judges and the courts».