Are parents best placed to decide what is right for their children?

Mr Justice Bodey sitting at the High Court in London was, in December 2012, given the task of making the decision as to whether a seven year old boy, Neon Roberts, who has suffering from medulloblastoma (a brain tumour), should undergo radiotherapy or not.

Arguments were put forward by the legal team acting on behalf of Neon’s mother, Sally Roberts, that extra time should be granted before a Judgment was made in this case to enable her to seek experts in alternative treatments including immunotherapy, born neutron capture therapy, photo-dynamic therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy.  Mrs Roberts dismissed her legal team part way through the High Court Hearing.

Mrs Roberts had wanted to call evidence from various alternative medical practitioners regarding the treatments they would be able to offer her son, Neon, but her application to adjourn the case until the new year was refused by Mr Justice Bodey as he ruled that any further delays to treatment would be detrimental to Neon and not in his best interests.

The Court was informed that doctors wished to start radiotherapy no later than 16th January 2013 and, ideally, by 9th January 2013.

The unnamed hospital trust that is treating Neon submitted that without the use of radiotherapy treatment the tumour will recur and Neon, who is a twin, will die.  NHS Barrister, Eleanor Gray QC said “radiotherapy has been the norm for medulloblastoma patients since the 1950s and before that all patients died”.

The child’s father, Ben Roberts, from whom Mrs Roberts is separated was in support of the NHS view and believed that Neon should commence radiotherapy as soon as possible and was anxious that an Order for radiotherapy be made during the week commencing 17th December 2012.

Earlier during December 2012 Mrs Roberts had disappeared from her home in Tiverton with Neon for four days, sparking a national police hunt for them both.

Mrs Roberts was extremely concerned that it was not in Neon’s best interests to be treated by radiotherapy and it was submitted that her position in the litigation was principled, reasonable and in the best interests of Neon.  Evidence of risks of significantly lowered IQs in those who undergo radiotherapy and chemotherapy, as opposed to chemotherapy alone, were highlighted by her legal team whilst they were still instructed by her.

However, one of the expert doctors who was cross-examined in Court stated that while there can be serious side-effects to the therapy, things can be done to mitigate this.

Any request for further delays to the commencement of radiotherapy for Neon were opposed by Counsel for the hospital trust, particularly due to the fact that it was clear that at least one of the four private practitioners provided by Mrs Roberts “was not familiar or remotely expert” in the treatment of medulloblastoma.  The doctor referred to had spelt the condition incorrectly and the description he gave of the illness appeared to have come either from the internet or newspaper cuttings.

Another of the doctors whose details were provided was not GMC registered and none of them was on the specialist GMC register, which meant it was extremely improbable that they were specialists in paediatric oncology (cancer treatment).

In addition, it was unlikely that any alternate forms of therapy or treatment for Neon would be funded on the NHS.

Without the treatment recommended by the NHS the Court heard that it was probably that Neon would die within three months.

Having heard the evidence and submissions put to him, Mr Justice Bodey ruled that Neon should undergo radiotherapy and it has now been reported in this press that this commenced on 10th January 2013 and sources have said this is going very well.