Force feeding

Force feeding also raises the questions of determining the boundaries of intervention in mental disorder. The British courts have recognized that prisoners have the right to refuse food in the course of a hunger strike, the assumption being that they are rational persons who, if they wish to do so, may choose to decline food for political or other purposes. The force feeding of psychiatric patients raises distinct issues, and the law has tended to a rather more interventionist stance in this context.

The leading British case on this issue is B v. Croydon Health AuthorityA4) B, who had been diagnosed as suffering from psychopathic disorder, was detained under Section 3 of the 1983 Act. She had manifested a tendency to harm herself, and this was considered symptomatic of her psychopathic condition. After a period of refusing food, during which her weight had declined to a dangerous extent, the decision was taken to feed her by nasogastric tube. A challenge to the legality of this was rejected by the court on the grounds that because the self-harming conduct was an aspect of the patient's mental disorder, resort to artificial feeding could be considered to be treatment intended to alleviate or prevent a deterioration of the disorder itself.

Courts have also considered the force feeding of patients suffering from anorexia nervosa to be part of the treatment of a mental illness. In Riverside Mental Health Trust v.Fox(l5> permission was given to force feed such a patient on the grounds that the unwillingness to eat was caused by a mental disorder and was therefore a symptom which could be treated compulsorily under the terms of the 1983 Act.

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