Judge orders cancer treatment for young boy

03:03, Dec 22 2012
Sally Roberts
FIGHT AGAINST TREATMENT: Sally Roberts says there is no evidence that radiotherapy will save her son's life.

A British High Court judge has ordered radiotherapy to begin on a sick seven-year-old boy whose treatment his New Zealand mother has been trying to stop.

Sally Roberts, 37, formerly of Auckland, claimed radiotherapy would cause significant side-effects to her son Neon, and had resisted National Health Service Trust (NHS) attempts to treat him.

At one point she took the boy into hiding and then after police found them she has fought to avoid court ordered treatment.

Neon Roberts

But overnight Justice Bodey, who heard evidence at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London, said radiotherapy treatment could start.

"The mother has been through a terrible time. This sort of thing is every parent's nightmare," Justice Bodey said in an account in the Mirror.

"But I am worried that her judgment has gone awry on the question of the seriousness of the threat which Neon faces."


Justice Bodey had said he had to balance risk against benefit in deciding whether to allow doctors to use radiotherapy treatment.

"It is a balance between the disadvantages of radiotherapy and the improved prospects of living.

"You can only suffer these detriments to your life if you are alive."
NHS lawyers argued that if Neon does not get radiotherapy he will die within a few months.

The Independent reported Roberts had asked for more time to seek "alternative" treatments, which had been described by the NHS counsel as "experimental" and "unproven".

Justice Bodey said that no evidence had been presented to support Roberts' assertion that there were "thousands of children surviving cancer without radiotherapy".

He said based on expert evidence provided by a leading paediatric oncologist, he was convinced radiotherapy treatment combined with chemotherapy was "at present the best we have to deal with a malignant cancer".

Neon's father Ben Roberts, who remained at his bedside at an undisclosed hospital was "relieved" at the judge's verdict, his solicitor Gwen Williams said.

"He now hopes that Neon can be allowed to recover from his latest operation and start the radiotherapy and chemotherapy that the doctors have outlined without any further delay."

The Independent reported Victoria Butler-Cole, counsel for the NHS Trust treating Neon, said the success rate of the treatment for children in Neon's situation was 67 per cent. Without the delay to his receiving treatment, the success rate would have been 80 per cent.

Roberts was denied leave to appeal by Justice Bodey, but can still seek to take her case to the Court of Appeal. Her legal team did not comment on whether they would take such a step.

The Independent said Roberts had agreements with a national newspaper and a TV station to talk exclusively about the case and denied that media attention on the case was influencing her attitude to it.

The Daily Telegraph reported the judge said it would take "several days" to prepare Neon for the "sophisticated procedures".

The Telegraph said Robert's objections to a second operation this week were also overruled by the judge.

That seven-hour operation has been deemed an early success after MRI scans appeared to show that the tumour had been removed completely.

The operation, which took place at a "hospital regarded as a centre for excellence", meant Neon was now considered a "standard risk", rather than "high risk", the court was told.

The Guardian said the court heard doctors want to start radiotherapy no later than January 16 and ideally by January 9.

Roberts has prevented her son from taking anti-emetic drugs, which control nausea, after the operation, the court heard.

In a blog on the case, the BBC's medical correspondent Fergus Walsh said the outcome of the case was never in doubt.

"On one side there was Neon's entire medical team, and the weight of evidence from peer-reviewed cancer studies who agree that he urgently needs radiotherapy; on the other was his mother who failed to produce any evidence at all of alternative treatment," he wrote.

"Many will feel Mrs Roberts deserves little sympathy. By missing key medical appointments, and then disappearing with Neon for four days, she has delayed his vital treatment.

"Those who seek simply to condemn Sally Roberts should remember that she has been terribly affected by her son's condition," Walsh said.

"It is unusual for parents to oppose cancer treatment for their children and, when it does come to court, the names are not given to protect the identity of the youngsters.

"But Mrs Roberts decision to run away with her son led to a national appeal for his return. Now the name of Neon Roberts will always be linked to this dramatic and sad case."