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UK court rules anorexic woman can be fed against her will

A judge for the UK Court of Protection [official website] ruled Friday that a 32-year-old woman who suffers from anorexia [womenshealth.gov backgrounder], a fear of gaining weight resulting in decreased consumption of food, can be fed against her will. Justice Peter Jackson found that, by assessing the balance between one's life and personal independence, it is lawful to feed someone even against her will if it is in the best interest of that person. The justice added that such interference with her personal independence was necessary to protect her right to life. The woman, a former medical student from Wales who could not be publicly identified, began to watch out for her weight in the age of 11 resulting in her abuse of alcohol to overcome the obsessive fear to gain weight. Jackson expressed his difficulty in deciding the case because the balancing has never been a mechanical but rather an intuitive one. Although the treatment she will undergo may significantly infringe upon her privacy and personal choices, he reasoned that given the likelihood of the treatment's success and the high value of life the decision was the right one.

The balance between life and one's personal independence has been difficult for the courts to assess. In March, the UK High Court justice allowed a right to die case [JURIST report] to proceed, the first to be allowed in British courts. Tony Nicklinson, a victim of a paralyzing stroke, challenged the UK's definition of murder to obtain medical assistance in committing suicide. He argued that the government was denying his right to private and family life because his decision was one of personal autonomy and dignity. In 2011, an India high court ruled passive euthanasia was permitted [JURIST report] under certain circumstances, but rejected a petition for a mercy killing. In 2010, Germany held [JURIST report] that removing a patient from life supporting was not a criminal offense if the terminal individual had previously given consent.

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