Last month a UK judge ruled that an anorexic woman could not be force fed despite the fact that doctors ruled it to be a lifesaving treatment.
The woman started struggling with anorexia more than 14 years ago and has been in and out of the hospital more than 45 times. This woman has also been struggling with alcohol dependency which has caused severe and irreversible liver damage.
The judge’s ruling came after the woman wrote an impassioned letter telling the judge that she understood the ramifications of refusing treatment and she would rather live out the rest of her life with her family instead of enduring another hospital stay and force feeding.
This ruling has opened up a number of questions for treating people with mental illnesses. On the one hand, without being force fed, this woman will almost certainly die but it can be seen as a violation of her human rights to force feed her.
The judge described the woman as being stuck in an “increasingly destructive revolving door of treatment and recurring illness.” This characterisation has caused some people to say that this woman could be beyond help and it would therefor simply be cruel to force her into treatment. Other people believe that sick and vulnerable people are not always in the right frame of mind to make the best decisions concerning their welfare. These people believe that forced treatment is necessary in this extreme case because the woman is unable to make rational decisions about her own care.
With this new precedent set, other people with mental illnesses may be able to opt out of forced treatment. This could become a very tough issue as it can be difficult to evaluate someone’s mental state and truly understand if they are able to make the best decisions for their own welfare.