Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 12 December - Tumour returns to radiotherapy runaway

The story of Sally Roberts and her seven-year-old son’s battle with a brain tumour, a kind of cancer, is a heart-wrenching one.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 12 December

Tumour returns to radiotherapy runaway

The story of Sally Roberts and her seven-year-old son’s battle with a brain tumour, a kind of cancer, is a heart-wrenching one.

Mrs Roberts went on the run with her son Neon earlier this month in a bid to prevent him receiving radiotherapy as part of his treatment because she was worried about the long-term side-effects.

She was convinced that following an operation to remove the tumour her son had experienced a return to health, and should not have the radiotherapy her son’s doctors were advising.

Their disappearance sparked a nationwide search that only came to an end when a judge ordered that police enter the house where she was hiding.

The treatment involves subjecting a patient to high energy x-rays and similar rays to try to kill cancer cells, of which a brain tumour is one kind.

Not only had the case over whether Neon should receive the radiotherapy reached the High Court on Saturday, but Mrs Roberts has confirmed that the tumour has returned – a possibility that she has previously said would leave her with no choice but to accept the need for the treatment.

Mrs Roberts had claimed that her concerns – that among other things it could reduce her son’s intelligence and stunt his growth – were not being listened to by doctors who were determined to give Neon the treatment with or without her consent.

This is why, she says, she went on the run.

One of the reasons the story has received so much coverage is that it opens up a number of debates around medical ethics – the morality of doctors’ decision making – and the extent to which parents should have complete decision-making power over their children’s lives.

Mrs Roberts, who is originally from New Zealand, had been determined to explore the possibility of using “alternative medicine” – controversial non-medical treatments that are not administered by doctors – for her son. “I was on a conveyor belt and I [felt I] had no choice,” she told ITV’s Daybreak yesterday morning. “They said treatment must start. I thought if I was going to take him to the hospital they would never let us go home.” She insisted that she was not adamantly opposed to giving her son radiotherapy. But, she said, “it damages your DNA”.

“I feel we can still save his life. I'm incredibly confident. That's exactly why I don't just want to race into radiotherapy."

It is yet to be disclosed whether Mrs Roberts will now give her support for the treatment now that the cancer has returned. Neon’s father has previously said that he shared the concerns of his wife – who he no longer lives with – but accepted the need for it.


  • Who do you think should decide what medical care a child receives - should it be a parent, a doctor, or the child themselves?
  • Can you remember a time when your parent or guardian made a decision for you? How did you feel about it?
  • Why do you think that the courts became involved in this case?
  • Doctors' opinions are usually trusted. Who do you trust most, and why?

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In the news archive index