Education And Debate

Media coverage of the Child B case

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 22 June 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:1587
  1. Vikki A Entwistle (, research fellowa,
  2. Ian S Watt, dissemination managera,
  3. Richard Bradbury, research assistanta,
  4. Lesley J Pehl, research fellowa
  1. a NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York, York YO1 5DD
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Entwistle.
  • Accepted 14 May 1995

The case of a girl with leukaemia, known as Child B, hit the headlines in March 1995 when her father refused to accept the advice of doctors who counselled against further treatment and took Cambridge and Huntingdon Health Authority to court for refusing to fund chemotherapy and a second bone transplant for her in the private sector. British national newspapers varied greatly in the way they covered the case. Some paid little attention to clinical considerations and presented the case as an example of rationing based on financial considerations. Their selective presentations meant that anyone reading just one newspaper would have received only limited and partial information. If members of the public are to participate in debates about treatment decisions and health care rationing, means other than the media will need to be found to inform and involve them.

Some form of rationing is inevitable in a cash limited health service.1 The issue of rationing, however, has most often been brought to public attention by media coverage of specific instances in which individuals have been denied treatment. One striking example was the case of a girl with leukaemia, known as Child B, which hit the headlines in March 1995.

Most people only became aware of the Child B case because of the media coverage it attracted. Media presentations of the case are likely to have shaped public perceptions of the way treatment and funding decisions are made in the NHS. The questions of whether further chemotherapy and a possible bone marrow transplant were in Child B's best interests, and whether the NHS should fund them, were highly complex and could be viewed from a variety of perspectives. This paper illustrates how British national newspapers varied in the way they selectively reported relevant issues and arguments in the early stages …

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