Woman with Anorexia to be Force Fed

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

A woman with severe anorexia who wanted to be allowed to die is to be force fed in her best interests by order of a High Court judge.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson declared that the 32-year-old woman, known as E, did not have the capacity to make decisions for herself. The judge found that although E and her family had reasons to believe she had capacity this was not enough. A formal capacity assessment was required at the time in order to show that E had capacity to make such a significant decision. He acknowledged that her parents were in an “impossible” position which “does not merely entail bodily intrusion of the most intimate kind, but the overbearing of E’s will in a way that she experiences as abusive”.

The judge said “For E, the compulsion to prevent calories entering her system has become the card that trumps all others. The need not to gain weight overpowers all other thoughts.” He explained the reasons for his decision saying that a balance needs to be struck between the weight objectively to be given to life on one hand and to personal independence on the other. “At its simplest, the balance to be struck places the value of E’s life in one scale and the value of her personal independence in the other, with these transcendent factors being weighed in the light of the reality of her actual situation.”

The Judge added that “E is a special person, whose life is of value. She does not see it that way now, but she may in future. I would not overrule her wishes if further treatment was futile, but it is not. Although extremely burdensome to E, there is a possibility that it will succeed… it would not be right to turn down the final chance of helping this very vulnerable young woman.”

The impact of this decision means that living wills could be rendered invalid for those believed to lack capacity. Paul Bowen QC, said of the ruling it should be a word of caution to people who suffer from conditions that can deprive them of capacity. Before making an advanced directive they should have a psychiatric assessment so that courts do not set them aside.

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