Judge commends ‘fantastic’ progress in case of woman who had refused tube feeding

Woman’s case previously described as ‘Catch-22′, but court hears of positive developments

The president of the High Court has commended “fantastic” progress in a young woman’s approach to her hospital treatment for malnourishment.

Mr Justice David Barniville had previously described her case as “Catch-22″ when it emerged that due to having been fed through a nasogastric tube by order of the court, she had regained the mental capacity to decline treatment she needed “potentially to save her life”.

His earlier orders of late February, permitting the tube feeding, could at that time be made under the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction as the woman had lost mental capacity due to weight loss from not eating.

With renewed capacity thanks to the orders, the woman said she would agree to further tube feeding only while a court order was in place and was refusing it if there was no order, the court heard 12 days ago.

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The judge said his hands were tied as he no longer had the power to make the feeding orders without her consent when the medical evidence was that the woman had regained mental capacity. He expressed concern the loss and recovery of the woman’s capacity could potentially occur “again and again and again” if she continued to refuse tube feeding.

However, on Tuesday, barrister Ciara Dowd, representing the Health Service Executive (HSE), said there have been “positive” developments in the case, including that the woman has agreed to four rounds of tube feeding in the past two days.

Her medical team has been “really impressed” with her and hopes the situation continues. She continues to retain the capacity to make her own medical decisions, Ms Dowd said, asking the court to schedule for the case to return in about three weeks.

Barrister Natalie McDonnell, for the woman’s court-appointed advocate, said the woman wants more information about supports available to her if she moves out of the hospital.

The advocate has instructed a consultant psychologist to deliver a report on the woman’s condition, Ms McDonnell said.

Mr Justice Barniville praised the woman’s “remarkable” progress, which he “does not want to lose” by adjourning the case for too long.

Noting the woman was consenting to the court’s continued involvement, he adjourned the matter to later this week.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is High Court Reporter with The Irish Times