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Eating Disorders and the Law


Eating disorders have significant health and personal impacts on those living with the illness, as well as family and friends who provide care and support. Anorexia nervosa is characterised by a distorted view of body weight and shape. When combined with physical effects of starvation on the ability to reason, it can impact on a person’s capacity to make beneficial decisions about treatment. People with anorexia can become acutely unwell and may require urgent nutritional rehabilitation.


Once a person’s ability to think clearly has been restored through re-feeding, other therapies can begin. The majority of people suffering from anorexia receive voluntary treatment. This means the person can stop the treatment at any time. A person can only agree to voluntary treatment if they have the capacity to do so which can be affected by starvation. If a person is not able to give consent to voluntary treatment or if voluntary treatment is not successful, consideration needs to be given to involuntary treatment options.


A person with anorexia can be involuntarily treated if their circumstances meet the three statutory requirements in sections 12 to 14 of the Mental Health Act (“MHA”). These requirements are:

                      1.  The person is a mentally ill person, which means that the person has a condition which seriously impairs their mental functioning.

                      2.  The person is at risk of serious harm.

                      3.  There is no other form of safe and effective care which can be satisfied if voluntary care or treatment is not viable.


An involuntary treatment order under the MHA may be in the form of a community treatment order which is compulsory outpatient treatment and may require the person to attend regular appointments, take medication and attend ‘weigh-ins’.


Alternatively, an order can also be made under the Guardianship Act if the person is found to be suffering from a disability which is defined to mean that the person is restricted in one or more major life activities to such an extent that they require supervision.



The advice in this article is general in nature and you should consult your solicitor for specific advice