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The recent story of Ashya King – a five-year old diagnosed with medulloblastoma (a type of brain tumour) – captivated the British public last week after his parents were caught in the midst of an international search warrant for taking their son from a hospital in Southampton against the advice of doctors. After being held in a Madrid prison, the parents were released and reunited with their son who is being treated in a Spanish hospital in Malaga. Ashya’s parents took their child to Spain in order to receive proton beam therapy to prevent the tumour from returning. Proton beam therapy uses charged particles instead of x-rays to deliver radiotherapy to cancer patients, allowing high-energy proton to target tumours and reduce the dosage administered to surrounding organs and tissues. The UK Department of Health announced in 2011 that proton therapy would be made available for patients in London and Manchester from 2018.

Both Law and Medicine applicants should remember this high-profile case as an example of how medical ethics and practice work within UK law. Ashya’s parents claim they were forced to take their son abroad to receive treatment given the stringent measures in place which mean no decision on Aysha’s future can be taken without a court approval. The furore surrounding the story has fuelled the debate on the status of child guardians, with Alasdair McDonnell MP proposing that guardians be given the power to reflect the best interests of the child to all the relevant authorities and services.

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