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'Scared' parents welcome court's decision to continue detention of severely anorexic son

The parents of a young man with severe anorexia have welcomed a judge's decision to continue their son's detention in a specialist eating disorder facility in the UK which, the High Court heard, may have saved his life.

The man's mother said he is a "fine young man" but the parents are "scared", if he did not remain a ward of court, which would permit his detention in the UK unit where he had made an "unbelievable improvment", there could be a relapse which could be fatal.

Due to anorexia, their son previously had to be admitted to a hospital in Ireland as an emergency, was treated in an intensive care unit and she and her husband were told then he would not survive. "Once we have hope, it’s great," she said.

The man's father told the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly that both parents fully supported the judge's decision to favour the view of the UK anorexia specialist treating their son (that their son) lacks capacity to properly appreciate the importance of weight restoration, rather than the opinion of a psychiatrist (that) he can make decisions in the best interests of his health.

Mr Justice Kelly, having analysed the evidence, including via video link from the UK specialist and the man himself, said he would not discharge the man from wardship and would continue orders facilitating his detention and treatment in the UK facility. The situation will be reviewed in March with liberty to apply in the interim.

The evidence is the man is still at risk of relapse and lacks adequate insight into the importance of weight restoration, the judge said.

It is "not generally appreciated how serious anorexia is", he said. It has a mortality rate of some 20%, the highest of any psychiatric disorder. The man had already been "at death’s door" and he did not want to see him relapse.

He preferred the evidence of the "hugely experienced" UK specialist against the psychiatrist whose focus was general health psychiatry.

Earlier, the UK specialist said the man's condition had improved since he was admitted last year to the UK unit but his weight remains very low and she considered he lacked the necesasry capacity to understand the importance of weight restoration as opposed to weight maintenance.

Low weight dulls emotional responses and there cannot be full recovery until a certain level of body weight is achieved, she said.

There was also evidence, including from a stress fracture in his foot, that the man was overexercising and he had lost a small amount of weight during a visit home, she said.

If discharged from wardship, with the effect the UK team could not treat him as they considered appropriate, she was very concerned he would be at risk of losing weight again and slowly return to a more critical stage.

If he did fully weight restre, the risk of relapse would "very much reduce" and, if he could get to a healthy weight and maintain that for a while, the chances of recovery are good. She had no doubt he sincerely wants to manage the illness, she added.

In his evidence, the man said he has made progress and is determined to continue doing so but he could only cope for now with a focus on weight maintenance and relapse prevention rather than weight restoration.

He said he is willing to remain voluntarily in the UK unit and work with the team there and is "determined to distance myself from anorexia" and to have "a life without anorexia determining my life and thoughts". He has many goals and considered he has a fuller chance of recovery down the line.