Judge rules out forced feeding for three-stone anorexic

A High Court judge has ruled that doctors do not have to force-feed a severely anorexic woman – whose weight is just over three stone – against her wishes.

Mrs Justice Eleanor King, sitting at the Court of Protection in London yesterday, granted declarations to an NHS Trust which said it would not be in the “best interests” of the 29-year-old woman to subject her to “forcible feeding”.

Her parents, from the North of England, did not oppose the order, telling the judge they wanted everything to be done to help her, provided she was not caused distress.

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The court heard the “highly intelligent” woman did not wish to die, but “suffers with serious and enduring anorexia nervosa” – a condition which creates a “morbid fear” of normal body weight and ingesting calories that could increase weight – and which “does not allow her to eat”.

She has suffered from it from the age of 12 and since turning 14 has spent 90 per cent of her life as an in-patient. She now weighs around just three stone and two pounds and the court heard her BMI, body mass index, had gone down to the “extremely low level” of 7.7.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, but is referred to as L, was described as being in a “parlous state”.

She agreed on August 2 to comply with naso-gastric tube feeding, but the case concerned what should be done if she refuses to continue with it – and whether treatment should be carried out forcibly against her wishes.

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The court heard she was “only agreeing” to receive 600 calories a day, which was insufficient to maintain her current weight.

The judge announced she was “able to conclude” it was “appropriate” and in L’s “best interests” to make the declarations sought by the Trust. The making of the order was also not opposed by the Official Solicitor, representing L.

The judge told L’s mother and father they had been “extremely brave” and that L was “very fortunate to have such parents”.

L’s mother described her daughter as a “lovely” person – when she first “became poorly” no-one had envisaged what was going to happen “in a million years”.

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The judge said that from what she had heard “this is not going to be a battle she is going to win”.

She added: “The task for everyone now is to make these last weeks – and I hope it is longer and not shorter – as comfortable for her as possible and for you to have as much time as you possibly can together.”

The order also states: “Should L’s condition further deteriorate such that in the opinion of the treating clinicians she has entered the terminal stage of her illness, to provide L with such palliative care and related treatment (including pain relief and anxiolytics) under medical supervision to ensure that L suffers the least distress and retains the greatest dignity until such time as her life comes to an end.”