But rather than force her to consume enough calories for her health to improve, an NHS Trust has been given permission to let her starve because they believe forcing her to gain weight would go against her wishes.
The woman, referred to in court as ‘L’, will now almost certainly die in the next few weeks.
The landmark judgment was attended yesterday by the woman’s parents, who did not oppose the order and said they simply wanted their daughter to be cared for without suffering distress.
At the hearing, Miss L’s mother described her daughter as a ‘lovely’ person who had simply ‘become poorly’ with a condition no one could have envisaged happening ‘in a million years’.
Mrs Justice Eleanor King told Miss L’s mother and father they had been ‘extremely brave’. She said it was now up to doctors and family to ‘make these last few weeks as comfortable for her as possible’.
The NHS Trust which has cared for Miss L had applied to the High Court for permission not to force-feed the patient despite her weighing little more than three stone.
Mrs Justice King, sitting at the Court of Protection in London, heard how Miss L, from the north of England, suffers with ‘enduring anorexia nervosa’ and has spent most of her life as a hospital in-patient because of the seriousness of her condition.
Until last March she was in a psychiatric unit, when she deteriorated and became so ill doctors believed she would die very shortly without treatment. Despite her BMI dropping to an ‘extremely low level’ of 7.7, Miss L has somehow stayed alive.
Bridget Dolan, for the trust, told the court Miss L has not expressed any wishes to die. However, her condition means she has a ‘morbid fear’ of ingesting calories, which ‘does not allow her to eat’.
She said the woman was ‘only agreeing’ to 600 calories a day through a tube, which was ‘insufficient to maintain her current weight’.
‘The issue is what do the doctors do?’ she added. ‘Do they force-feed her against her wishes, or do they allow her to be the barometer by which the decision about how much nutrition she takes in is made?’
Mrs Justice King ruled that forcing her to eat without her permission or through physical force was not in the woman’s best interests, even if she dies as a result.
She said ‘all reasonable steps’ should be taken in the meantime to try to gain her cooperation and convince her to eat of her own accord.
But she declared that the clinicians should be permitted ‘not to provide L with nutrition and hydration with which she does not comply where such treatment cannot be delivered without her co-operation and/or without the use of physical force.’
The judge added that should the woman become terminally ill, doctors should provide sufficient medical care to ‘ensure that L suffers the least distress and retains the greatest dignity until such time as her life comes to an end.’