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Court case of 15-year-old anorexia patient: force-feed or right to self-determination?

Via expedited proceedings at Leeuwarden Court of Appeal, a mother is trying to impose a relatively new treatment for her 15-year-old daughter’s eating disorder. The girl is suffering from anorexia nervosa and if she does not receive urgent treatment which the girl herself supports, there is a chance that she will starve herself and eventually die.

Mariëlle Bruning

The mother and her lawyer have asked the Court of Appeal to appoint a guardian ad litem who can represent the interests of the child as an independent expert. Medical practitioners are said to attach little or no value to the girl’s wishes, although her right to self-determination is enshrined in the Constitution. Under the Medical Treatment Contract Act (WGBO), as a 15-year-old she is also entitled to take part in the decision about her treatment.

A distressing case, says Professor of Child Law Mariëlle Bruning in Dutch newspaper NRC. The parties involved are faced with an agonising dilemma. Can the girl deal with the autonomy if the compulsory treatment imposed is replaced by psychotherapy that has not yet been scientifically proven to work? It cannot be ruled out that she will still die as a result. In the article Bruning asks if society is prepared to take that risk.


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