Boy must have surgery despite wishes of his mother, court rules

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 19 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8622
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

A High Court judge has given the go ahead for a 7 year old boy with a brain tumour to have more surgery, overriding the objections of his mother.

Neon Roberts was at the centre of a nationwide search after his mother, who lives in Brighton, East Sussex, went into hiding with him to prevent doctors giving him radiotherapy after initial surgery for a medulloblastoma.1

But after magnetic resonance imaging showed a residual tumour or regrowth of 1.5 cm, Mr Justice Bodey authorised a further operation, despite opposition from the boy’s mother, Sally Roberts. Doctors told the judge at the High Court in London that Neon could die within three months without the treatment.

The judge said that while he sympathised with the mother he agreed with the medical experts that surgery had to be performed “extremely urgently.”

He added, “It is obvious to everyone that all operations carry risks, and this is no exception.” But, putting aside the risks, he was “quite satisfied” that surgery was in Neon’s best interests.

“We don’t have the luxury of time . . . and in the circumstances the surgery must go ahead as soon as possible,” the judge said. The operation was set to take place on 19 December, and the court was expected to hear further argument on radiotherapy, which Roberts also opposes, the next day.

Earlier the mother’s counsel, Robin Tolson QC, told the judge, “This, for the mother, is a very serious issue. We know she had thought long and hard about it. The present position [is] she does not feel able to consent to surgery. She is not persuaded of the need and in particular she is not persuaded by the urgency.”

The paediatric oncologist treating Neon told the court, “Without further treatment it is highly likely he will die, and he will die over a relatively short period of time. I believe it would be very ethically wrong for that to take place.

“It is something we feel we can do to improve his prognosis. We feel it is important to improve his prognosis, particularly as he has other adverse factors such as the delay in radiotherapy.” He said that a delay in Neon’s treatment, along with the residual tumour, put the boy in the high risk category.

Roberts, who is originally from New Zealand, initially consented to the further operation but changed her mind at the last minute because of the possible side effects, including that Neon may be left mute.

She opposes radiotherapy, which she fears might leave her son with permanent brain damage, and is trying to find experts in other countries who might support her views. Her estranged husband, Ben, Neon’s father, wants him to have the surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy recommended by his doctors.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8622