Parents arrested over son's cancer treatment

Last Updated Sep 2, 2014 10:37 AM EDT

LONDON -- The story of a desperately sick child and -- it seems -- desperate parents wanting to do whatever they can for him, has gripped the British public and fueled a debate over who gets the final say when it comes to matters of life and death.

What everyone does seem to agree on, reports CBS News' Mark Phillips, is that the whole thing has been very badly handled.

The question is whether a family is doing what's best for their child -- against their British doctors' orders, or what's worst.

The King family took five-year-old Ashya out of an English hospital late last week because they wanted a different treatment for his brain tumor than doctors were willing to provide.

The response from British authorities was to issue an international arrest warrant for Brett King and his wife Naghmeh, who were by then driving their son to their vacation home in southern Spain. Police made it sound like a kidnapping.

An official Yellow Notice issued by Interpol requesting information on the whereabouts of Ashya King, who was at that time deemed "missing" by British authorities
An official Yellow Notice, or missing person alert, issued by Interpol requesting information on the whereabouts of Ashya King, who was at that time deemed "missing" by British authorities. Interpol

"Ashya is in a wheelchair, and is fed from a tube. The feeding system is battery operated, and that battery will run out today," warned assistant police chief constable Chris Shead, in Hampshire, England.

But it turned out the danger was overstated. Ashya was soon seen with his feeding system plugged in and in the company of his family, who defended their actions.

"So I just please ask, call off this ridiculous chase. We are not neglecting our son, he's in perfectly good health," said the father in a video posted to Youtube. "We were most disturbed today to find that his face is all over the internet and newspapers, and we've been labeled as kidnappers, putting his life at risk, neglect."

"There's been a lot of talk about this machine," he said pointing to the feeding system. "As you see, it's all plugged in, we've got loads of these feeds here."

The family want Ashya to be given proton beam radiotherapy, which U.K. hospitals don't always use for the kind of cancer he has.

Proton beam therapy is more targeted than traditional radiotherapy, damaging fewer cells surrounding the cancerous mass in a patient. Britain's state health care system has only approved proton beam therapy for cancers of the eye. Hospitals in the U.S. and elsewhere use the treatment on brain and other cancers.

Instead, the parents were hauled up before a Spanish judge and jailed while the court mulled whether they should all be extradited back to Britain -- while Ashya was stuck in a Spanish hospital.

Even Britain's deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, wonders whether the heavy hand of police action was what this case really needed.

"They're doing it for very strong parental motives, because they think that's what's right for their son," said Clegg. "I would like to see the family reunited and then hopefully people can calmly make a decision about what should happen next."

It remained unclear Tuesday whether that would happen anytime soon, but the British Crown Prosecution Service did withdraw its arrest warrant for the boy's parents, suggesting an easing in the official stance on the case.

With the arrest warrant dropped, it appeared likely the couple would soon be released from jail in Spain.