Anorexic close to death can be force-fed, judge rules

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A High Court judge has ruled that it is in the best interests of a woman who suffers from “extremely severe” anorexia to be fed against her wishes.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson found that the 32-year-old, who has other chronic health conditions, “lacked capacity” to make a decision about life-sustaining treatment.

Sitting at the Court of Protection in London, the judge said it was a “very difficult decision” to make in a situation requiring “a balance to be struck between the weight objectively to be given to life on one hand and to personal independence on the other”.

Her case had “raised for the first time in my experience the real possibility of life-sustaining treatment not being in the best interests of a person who, while lacking capacity, is fully aware of her situation”.

Giving his conclusion in a judgment made public yesterday, he said: “In the end, the presumption in favour of the preservation of life is not displaced.”

He declared that “it is lawful and in her best interests for her to be fed, forcibly if necessary”.

The “resulting interference” with the rights of the woman, who lives in Wales and cannot be named for legal reasons, but is referred to as E, was “proportionate and necessary in order to protect her right to life”.

The judge said of her: “Albeit gravely unwell, she is not incurable. She does not seek death, but above all she does not want to eat or to be fed.”

Her case came before the court last month when an urgent application was made by her local authority, which also cannot be identified.

Mr Justice Jackson said: “E’s death was imminent. She was refusing to eat and was taking only a small amount of water.

“She was being looked after in a community hospital under a palliative care regime whose purpose was to allow her to die in comfort.”

The former medical student, described as an “intelligent and charming person”, who began to control her eating at the age of 11, has not taken solid food for more than a year.

The judge said E’s views “are entitled to high respect”.

He added: “She is not a child or a very young adult, but an intelligent and articulate woman, and the weight to be given to her view of life is correspondingly greater.”

The judge said he placed E’s life “in the other scale”. He said: “E is a special person, whose life is of value. She does not see it that way now, but she may in future.”

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