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Woman with anorexia can be force fed, says High Court in UK


Alex Morgan
WVoN co-editor

The High Court has ruled that a 32 year old woman from Wales, who suffers from severe anorexia, can be fed against her will.

The former medical student, known only as E, for legal reasons, signed forms twice last year which stated she did not want to be given further lifesaving treatment, a decision which is supported by her family.

Justice Peter Jackson, sitting in the Court of Protection, defended his decision to allow force feeding, by saying that while she currently does not want to live she might one day come to see that she is a “special person whose life is of value”.

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

The former Liberal Democratic MP, Dr Evan Harris, who is also a member of the British Medical Association’s ethics committee, called the decision controversial, especially as the woman may need sedation or restraint in order to be fed.

He also stated that “It might not succeed and is itself life-threatening. To impose that on a patient who might be competent in refusing treatment is a very major step.”

While Justice Jackson also said that the woman had only a 20 per cent chance of recovery even if she is force fed, he explained his ruling by saying:

“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.”

The ruling is likely to reignite the debate on assisted suicide for those at the end of their lives and whether the state can step in to impose treatment.

The woman in this case is highly intelligent and once had ambitions of becoming a doctor before becoming seriously ill with anorexia in her 20s and understands that she will die if treatment is withdrawn. It is understood that she has refused solid food for a year and is close to death.

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