Seeking compulsory treatment as life-saving in the presence of eating disorders: a complex choice

Milano W, Cotugno A, Dalle Grave R, Gentile MG, Gravina G, Renna C, Salvo P, Todisco T, Donini LM  (2017) Il trattamento sanitario obbligatorio come salvavita in presenza di disturbi dell’alimentazione: una scelta complessa. Riv Psichiatr 52 (5):180-188

SUMMARY. Eating disorders (and especially anorexia nervosa) are associated with severe disability, poor quality of life and high mortality rate. Anorexia nervosa ranks among the main causes of death among young women. Despite physical and psycho-social impairment, patients suffer- ing from anorexia nervosa do not recognize low body weight and extreme calorie restriction as a clinical problem and are ambivalent towards treatment. Some patients with anorexia nervosa refuse treatments though presenting severe medical complications and having a high mortality risk. Hence the need to evaluate when it could be appropriate to prescribe a compulsory treatment in the more complex cases who refuse in- terventions, deemed necessary for them. To date, the compulsory treatment in anorexia nervosa is still under debate: some authors take into ac- count the negative impact on the therapeutic relationship, other authors consider it as a compassionate treatment or as life-saving therapy. In- deed, compulsory treatment for eating disorders must always be weighed very carefully because it is considered by law as the highest form of restriction of personal freedom. Political Institutions must provide a clear framework for the society and for professionals, while the health care services must face the problem of the adequacy of available resources (not only in terms of hospital beds but also of skilled professionals) com- pared to patients’ needs, considering the organization and the integration of clinical services dedicated to the treatment of eating disorders.

KEY WORDS: eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, malnutrition, compulsory treatment.