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UK opposition leader David Cameron's son dies at 6

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JILL LAWLESS | February 25, 2009 12:56 PM EST | AP

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LONDON — The severely disabled 6-year-old son of British opposition leader David Cameron died suddenly on Wednesday, and the country's usually partisan politicians united in expressing their shock and grief.

Ivan Cameron, the eldest of Cameron and his wife Samantha's three children, had cerebral palsy and Ohtahara syndrome, a rare and severe form of epilepsy.

Hospital chief executive Stephen Smith said Ivan died around 6:30 a.m. (0630 GMT) at St. Mary's hospital in central London after becoming ill overnight. Smith said the boy had suffered from "a severe, complex neurological disability."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown led national condolences, telling lawmakers in the House of Commons that "the death of a child is an unbearable sorrow that no parent should ever have to endure."

"I know the whole country _ our thoughts and our prayers _ are with David, Samantha and their family today," said Brown, whose first child, Jennifer Jane, was born prematurely in 2001 and died 10 days later. He also has two sons.

Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II had sent a private message of sympathy to the Camerons.

The prime minister's weekly question-and-answer session, which usually sees Brown and Cameron face off in the House of Commons, was canceled Wednesday out of respect for Cameron. It was the first time the session had been canceled because of a bereavement since 1994, when Labour Party leader John Smith died of a heart attack.

"Politics can sometimes divide us," Brown said. "But there is a common human bond that unites us in sympathy and compassion at times of trial and in support for each other at times of grief."

Cameron, 42, is widely expected to become Britain's next prime minister. His party consistently leads Brown's Labour Party in opinion polls.

The Cameron family asked for their privacy to be respected "at this very difficult time."

British TV showed a black-and-white photograph of the family at home _ used on their Christmas card last year _ depicting David Cameron holding Ivan in his arms, seated beside his wife and the couple's other children: Nancy, 5, and 3-year-old Arthur.

Cameron had often spoken publicly about his son's disability, and his family's reliance on the state-funded National Health Service.

In a 2006 BBC interview, Cameron said learning that his son was severely disabled had hit him "almost like mourning."

"You're mourning the gap between your expectation and what has happened," he said.

In the same interview, Cameron said his son _ who could not walk, talk or eat unaided and suffered frequent seizures_ was a "wonderful boy" but needed around-the-clock care.

"The thing that worries us is his quality of life," Cameron said. "But we are very positive, optimistic people and we are determined to give him all we can and make sure he is part of a happy family."