The unfortunate tale of Ashya King, which the media has devoured as a starving man might devour a double burger and triple fries, has by and large cast everyone as a villain, except the patient himself. The Southampton doctors failed to maintain a working relationship with the parents. The parents became Drs Google & Google, and removed their son from hospital without warning, though it wasn’t ‘without consent’, or even kidnap or abduction, as some have suggested. The hospital delayed telling the police Ashya was missing, and the police, when they were told, responded by firing a high energy proton beam of a warrant, the European Arrest Warrant, at the parents, who ended up in the Spanish nick while their son languished in a distant Spanish hospital. The gruesome cogs of the Court of Protection ground into action, and the parents were left crushed, ex-parents in all but name, as Ashya became a ward of court. Even the private Czech Proton Beam Therapy clinic has been accused of profiteering on the back of Ashya’s media coverage. All the while, the media frothed itself into a foaming frenzy, and on the white waters of the frenzy, thousands of commentators bobbed up and down, each more determined than the last to finger their choice of the true villain. As the froth piled up, facts sank like stones. It became a tale in which all are villains, and none heroes.
Dr No opened by describing the tale of Ashya as unfortunate, rather than sad/tragic/desperate, because it seems to him that what lies at the heart of this, err, sad tale is a series of unfortunate events that, as in the notion of holes lining up before a misfortune, allowed – it wasn’t conspired, because no one secretly planned it the way it has panned out, even if it may be fairly said that each player could have foreseen their actions might have untoward effects – the arrow of misfortune an unimpeded flight until it landed with a twang that continues to reverberate in the real victim, the silent Ashya, whose mournful uncomprehending gaze stares out from a thousand online images.
In the early stages, Dr No was inclined to see the police as the chief villains, for being heavy-handed, an over-reaction made all the more glaring by an equally notable under-reaction by a certain other force to fourteen hundred allegations of real child abuse. But as ACC Shead, the office in charge, said many times, what else could the police have done, given what the doctors had told them? Going back one hole in the arrow’s path, the hospital, on finding that one of its more dependent none-too-well child patients was now an unplanned ex-patient, could only do one thing: tell the police. Go back one further hole, and even the parents’ behaviour, facing as they saw it stubborn heartless doctors, had a necessary logic if they were to do what they genuinely believed was the best for their son. Even the doctors had their hands tied. If they believed, as appears to be the case on the little we know, that while proton beam therapy wouldn’t be any worse than conventional radiotherapy, nor would it be any better, then that is what needed to be said, whether the parents, anxious and desperate as they were, liked it or not.
Dr No’s thoughts then moved along lines of if all are villains, then none are villains, but that too is wrong. The simpler, better understanding is that all were instead victims, victims of a ghastly set of circumstances. It was misfortune’s lucky break to have the holes line up and allow its arrow free passage. It’s an ordinary tale of ordinary misfortune. It’s not news. There are no villains to be found, goats to be scaped, enquiries to be had or lessons to be learnt. The rest of us should, after briefly (if at all – the Kings are strangers to us) wishing them the best of luck in the difficult time ahead, STFU and let them get on with it. Whether the Kings – no strangers to raising the temperature – should also STFU is a moot point, but on balance Dr No suggests it may be wise, lest that arrow of misfortune come back and bite them in the bum.