Sunday 16 June 2019

The Ashya King case shows us that the state thinks it knows better than families

PLIGHT: Naghmeh and Brett King, parents of Ashya King, attend a news conference in Seville, last Wednesday. Photo: Miguel Angel Morenatti
PLIGHT: Naghmeh and Brett King, parents of Ashya King, attend a news conference in Seville, last Wednesday. Photo: Miguel Angel Morenatti
A still from a video posted on YouTube showing Brett King with Ashya, explaning why he took him from hospital without doctors’ consent. Photo: Press Association

John Waters

The laws used to pursue and imprison the parents of Ashya King were introduced to fight terrorism, a purpose for which they have been an abject failure. Now they come into their own in terrorising an innocent family.

The fundamental dynamics of this story are familiar to me from dealing in recent years with people on the run from British family courts or social services. I have come across several dozen such cases, in which parents and, in one instance, an extended family fled here believing that our written constitution would offer greater protections for their 'natural' rights as parents.

Invariably, it was clear that the UK authorities had come to believe that any rights or freedoms such families might enjoy were on loan to them from the state, which could withdraw them at will. Deplorably, too, these families almost invariably discovered that, contaminated by similar outlooks, the Irish courts were willing to turn black into white to find in favour of the UK authorities and wash their hands of the problem. I have seen more than a few parents brutalised similarly to Brett and Naghmeh King, having a child snatched from their arms, left wailing by the roadside as strangers took their children to the airport. Invariably, these were parents who had simply had the misfortune to come under the scrutiny of busybody social workers seeking to find something easy to do to avoid responsibility for more difficult cases.

Several times, I sought to interest Irish broadcasters in making public what was happening - to no avail. And sometimes, within weeks or days of writing about such heartbreaks, I was called upon to write about cases in which Irish courts decided, against the wishes of the parents, to switch off the life-support of a child deemed by 'experts' to have no prospect of regaining what they deemed an acceptable quality of life. On the one hand, the state presents itself as seeking, 'in the best interests of children', to overrule parents about the best way to make a child well; on the other, the state argues that it is in the best interests of the child to be dead.

This is the new totalitarianism. Its logic - and what it portends - creeps up on us unbeknownst, in all the talk about 'new rights', 'new family types', 'children's rights' and the blank refusal of liberal intellectual establishments to answer questions about the selectivity and senselessness of their agendas.

One of the scariest phrases I've heard in recent times - heard increasingly in radio discussions and from the mouths of politicians here and in the UK - is: "We have to get over our obsession with biological parenthood". The mentality behind this sentence is at the root of the horrific events in the Ashya case, where normative restraints of justice, fairness and feeling were suspended. A decade ago, the process would have been about supporting the family to provide the best possible treatment. Nowadays, such decisions are made not out of love, but on the basis of an ideology which ordains that 'the state knows best', implemented by faceless actors protected by laws conceived in different times to protect families and children.

In the King case, not alone was the biological connection between the parents and the child seen as irrelevant, but a prejudicial idea of the family's religious beliefs led to the parents being treated like criminals and in effect accused of being incapable of loving their child. Still, the Kings were 'lucky' - circumstances ensured that the 'human interest' value of their story trumped the usual ideological factors afflicting journalists, and so politicians were unable to hide from the facts of what was happening.

The conditions which this has enabled us to observe are precisely what I and a handful of others sought to alert the Irish public to a couple of years back in the course of what became known as the 'Children's Rights Referendum'. A preposterous phrase which I encountered several times in that campaign, usually from the mouths of TV and radio presenters, was along the lines of, "Don't you realise that the family home is the most dangerous place for a child to be?" Whose family home? Yours?

The King case tells us that what were once the most fundamental of human rights are no longer to be unconditionally available to certain categories of people. If it is possible to present the outlook of a person or a family as rooted 'merely' in nature, traditionalism or religiosity, then all normal niceties are suspended.

Liberal establishments can generally be relied upon to stay quiet as the state does its worst to a family in the knowledge that, being in harmony with the new senselessness, it will not be called to account.

Irish Independent

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