The distressing case raised important issues about the rights of patients with complex mental health problems (Picture: Getty)
A teenager with a severe eating disorder has died two months after a judge ruled that doctors could stop keeping her alive.
The 19-year-old stopped being provided with ‘artificial nutrition and hydration’ in May by a court which considers people’s mental capacity to make decisions for themselves.
Sir Jonathan Cohen announced her passing in writing on Friday, describing it as ‘tragic and deeply distressing’.
The Court of Protection hearing raised serious and profound questions about the individual’s rights to make their own life and death decisions.
Evidence was presented to the judge which made clear the young woman, identified only as BG, wanted the right to end her own treatment if she wished.
Experts had deemed ‘nothing more’ could be done to help her overcome a host of complex mental health issues and it fell to the court to make a ‘grave’ decision over whether she had the capacity to refuse food and water substitutes.
Judge Cohen said the case was ‘quite unlike any that I have come across’ and he was forced to conclude ‘the strong presumption that all steps will be taken to preserve human life unless the circumstances are exceptional’ is not ‘absolute’.
He added: ‘To be asked to make an order which will be likely to lead to the death of a sentient, highly intelligent and thoughtful individual who, if otherwise able and minded, might accept treatment which could assist her is as grave a decision as can be made.’
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He went on: ‘Simply because all the evidence points one way does not extinguish the burden.
‘But, in the tragic and deeply distressing circumstances of this case, I am in no doubt that it is in BG’s best interests that I made the various declarations.’
The teenager had suffered mental health difficulties for more than a decade and had been in hospital ‘almost continually’ for three years.
He wrote: ‘BG has made it completely clear over a prolonged period of time that she would wish to take her own decision and exercise her own autonomy over her body.
‘Her very clear decision is that she wishes to be discharged from hospital, to go home and determine for herself, what if any nutrition or hydration she takes.
‘This is not a sudden decision. It has been a long and deeply held wish of hers.
‘I have had the obligation and privilege of reading her diary over many weeks.
‘It is a harrowing read, setting out her suffering and how it should be resolved.’
The teenager’s parents told the court they agreed their child should be allowed to make her own treatment decisions, even if it meant her rejecting further help.
An original ban on any reporting of the case was lifted in May after a journalist argued in court it was not right for a decision of such gravity to be made entirely in secret.
The full details of the order were made public following her death.
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