Hospital may feed ‘critically ill’ anorexic woman through tube

Health centre secures emergency orders for woman who risks death without nutrition

A hospital has secured emergency High Court orders allowing it to feed a  woman suffering from anorexia nervosa through a nasal gastric tube. File photograph: Getty Images

A hospital has secured emergency High Court orders allowing it to feed a woman suffering from anorexia nervosa through a nasal gastric tube. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A hospital has secured emergency High Court orders allowing it to feed “a critically ill” young woman suffering from anorexia nervosa through a nasal gastric tube.

The woman has been hospitalised with the eating disorder for several weeks and currently weighs just 36kg and has a body mass index (BMI) of 12.

While the woman has told those treating her “she does not want to die” and wants to get better, she has refused to give her consent to allow the hospital feed her by a nasal tube.

However, the hospital says her life is in danger unless it is permitted to feed her via the tube.

The woman, described in court as being highly intelligent and someone who gets on well with medical staff, wants to beat her illness “by herself”.

The hospital says there is an “irrationality to her thinking about her condition” and she is unable to comprehend the consequences of her refusal to consent to having the tube inserted.

The hospital says she does not believe her condition is so serious that her life is at risk and she lacks the capacity to manage her own affairs to the degree she can make a decision to consent to the potentially lifesaving treatment.

Her doctors say she risks a sudden death unless she gets the nutrition she requires.

The hospital said that while the woman had made attempts to take additional nutrition in recent days, she had not made enough progress.

The orders were granted following an urgent hearing before Judge Robert Haughton on Friday. The judge was satisfied the woman lacks the capacity to give her consent to treatment.

Acknowledging that the woman’s situation is “quite critical”, the judge added that the orders sought were in her “best interests”.

Neither the woman nor the hospital where she is being treated can be identified for legal reasons.

Following her refusal to consent, the hospital, represented by Peter Finlay SC, sought various orders, including one allowing it treat the woman by providing her with nutrition via a nasal gastric tube.

Counsel said it was feared that if the woman’s condition deteriorated any further there would be “fatal consequences”.

“There can be no doubt about that, the hospital would not be in court otherwise,” counsel said.

Risk to life

Evidence was also given to the court by her treating consultant physician and her consultant psychiatrist, who both outlined the seriousness of the woman’s condition and the risk to her life following her failure to consent to the tube being inserted.

The court also heard from the woman’s court-appointed guardian. She told the court that the woman, who had on one previous occasion been fed via a tube, was fearful of that process.

She said the woman had been aware of the application to the court for some days and while she was not opposing the orders, she was not prepared to consent to the orders sought.

The woman’s mother told the court that she supported the hospital’s application “100 per cent”.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Haughton said the woman had “an irrational fear” of being fed via a gastric tube, but there were “obvious consequences” including sudden death if she did not receive sufficient nutrition in the short term.

After granting the orders the judge adjourned the matter to later this month.

When the matter returns before the court on January 15th, an application will be made before the President of the High Court, Judge Peter Kelly, to make the woman a ward of court.