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Views And Reviews

The right to be treated against her will

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 29 January 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:347
  1. Anonymous

    Most people can empathise with those who have a close relative with a progressive and life threatening illness. But when your relative refuses all treatment, despite the possibility of considerable relief of suffering and perhaps the restoration of a degree of independent and useful functioning, it is particularly hard to bear. My sister has suffered from a serious mental illness for many years and has been able to accept very little treatment. She has suffered from anorexia nervosa since the age of 11. In her early 20s she spent two years in a psychiatric hospital, mostly as an inpatient.

    * “She has fought the label of mental illness with extraordinary determination.”

    At this time she was given an additional diagnosis of psychotic depression, which has now been relabelled schizoaffective psychosis, an indication of the increasing severity and complexity of her symptoms.

    When I visit my parents I often lie awake listening to her moving furtively around the house. At four o'clock in the morning she is in the kitchen eating tomorrow's lunch. After this she may go to the rubbish bin and eat the leftovers from last night's supper. When she has finished she will go to her room and force herself to stay awake by kneeling on the floor, trying unsuccessfully to atone for the sins she believes she has committed.

    After her initial stay in hospital she made a slow and partial recovery hampered by her frequent refusal to comply with treatment. Nevertheless, she eventually returned to university and managed to get a degree and then a job as a trainee librarian. Living in rented accommodation she looked after herself …

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