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Judge: Severely anorexic patient can refuse forced feedings

Posted November 22

— A New Jersey judge has ruled a severely anorexic woman committed to a state psychiatric hospital two years ago can refuse forced feedings and granted her request for care to relieve pain or discomfort.

The 29-year-old Morris County woman, identified only as A.G., weighs 69 pounds and has been a patient at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Parsippany since 2014. She told the court earlier this month she doesn't want food or water and would prefer instead to enter palliative care.

Superior Court Judge Paul Armstrong in Morristown granted her request on Monday and ordered her transferred into palliative care at the hospital.

The state attorney general's office contends the woman is not mentally competent due to her chronic depression. It said anorexia is not a terminal condition and had asked the court to approve force-feedings, requested by state Department of Human Services. The attorney general's office said the woman's depression could be treated using an experimental drug.

Doctors testified that the woman has been diagnosed with terminal anorexia-nervosa. She told the court she would resist force-feedings, which are administered through a tube inserted through the nose and pushed down the throat.

Her court-appointed lawyer, Edward D'Alessandro Jr., said his client's bone density is comparable to a 92-year-old's. She would be at risk for injury if restrained, he said.

Judge Armstrong determined the woman's testimony was "forthright, responsive, knowing, intelligent, voluntary, steadfast and credible." He said the woman's parents, doctors, psychiatrists, court-appointed medical guardian and the ethics committee at Morristown Medical Center all supported her decision to refuse forced feedings.

"This decision was made by A.G. with a clear understanding that death was or could be the possible outcome," the judge said.

Armstrong cited previous "landmark" cases where patients, their families, physicians, and their institutions were found to be "proper cooperators" in making difficult medical decisions.

A spokesman for the state attorney general's office declined to comment on the order. It's unclear whether the state will appeal.

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