A Dutch teenager who struggled with mental health issues after being raped as a child was allowed to die at her home, her sister confirmed on Sunday.
Widespread English-language reports that Noa Pothoven, 17, had been euthanized with the state’s approval because of her rape trauma prompted backlash on Tuesday. But those reports were soon challenged, leading to criticism of the media.
Noa, who was from Arnhem, a city in the eastern part of the Netherlands, on Saturday wrote what she called a “sad last post” on Instagram. She declared that she had stopped eating and drinking and would be dead within 10 days. But it had been “so long” since she had “really been alive,” she said.
Looking ahead to being “released because my suffering is unbearable,” she said: “I survive, and not even that. I breathe but no longer live.”
Noa emphasized that her decision to die was not “impulsive,” but rather the result of “many conversations and assessments.” She had been repeatedly hospitalized for problems related to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia.
“After years of struggling and fighting, it’s over,” she said.
When the state supports child suicide
According to a 2018 Dutch newspaper profile, Noa first approached The End of Life Clinic in The Hague for euthanasia last year without her parents’ knowledge. But the clinic turned her away because she was too young.
The Netherlands is one of the only countries that allows active euthanasia, and the legal right extends to minors. Children as young as 12 can legally request help dying, though they must get parental consent until age 16. According to Dutch guidelines, in cases of “hopeless and unbearable” suffering, a doctor may administer a lethal dose of a “suitable drug.”
In 2017, the Dutch government approved 6,585 people for physician-assisted suicide, according to a report from a review committee. Most were cases of untreatable cancer, and a small number involved psychiatric distress.
Belgium has a similar law, and Luxembourg permits only adult euthanasia. Forms of assisted suicide that involve less outside help, often just a doctor writing a prescription for a lethal medication, are legal in a number of other countries, including parts of the United States.
After being refused by The End of Life Clinic, Noa last year published an award-winning autobiography about her travails titled “Winning and Learning.”
In the book, Noa traced her distress to a series of childhood attacks. She recounted being assaulted at a school party when she was 11 and again at a gathering of teenagers a year later. When she was 14, she wrote, she was raped by two men in her home city.
Noa said she was ashamed of the attacks and kept them secret. Her family only learned what she had gone through after her mother came across a trove of Noa’s suicide notes. But the teen said was still too afraid to file a report with the police.
Was a teen rape victim really euthanized?
As the sensational English-language reporting on Noa’s death spread online Tuesday, questions began to emerge.
Politico Europe correspondent Naomi O’Leary said in a Twitter thread Tuesday that she had checked with the reporter who wrote the original Dutch article, and learned that Noa “was NOT euthanized.” Rather, she said, the teen had tried to kill herself several times in recent months, and starting in June, refused all food and drink.
Having long sough treatments to save their daughter, they opted against force-feeding her, O’Leary said.
A 17-year-old rape victim was NOT euthanised in the Netherlands.@euronews @Independent @DailyMailUK @dailybeast are all wrong
It took me about 10 mins to check with the reporter who wrote the original Dutch story.
Noa Pothoven asked for euthanasia and was refused (cont.) pic.twitter.com/e7PYQSCxG1
— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) June 5, 2019
In the United States, as elsewhere, assisted suicide is a controversial issue. Many liberals and libertarians argue that the choice of whether to live or die is a fundamental human right. However, conservatives, and particularly Christians, tend to believe that human life is sacred and should be protected, including from suicide.
The debate is part of a larger clash over the role of the state in issues of identity and morality. In general, the left seeks autonomy and protection for those it deems marginalized, as with abortion and LGBT rights, whereas the right defends economic and religious freedom.
A number of conservative-leaning commentators reacted to news of Noa’s death on Twitter, saying the state should use its own judgement over that of suicidal people, especially when they are children. Some, including Quillette editor Claire Lehman, later removed their tweets in apparent recognition of the reporting inconsistencies.
Ben Sixsmith, a conservative writer and Quillette contributor, was unique in owning his mistake. After deleting his tweet Twitter criticizing the left over Noa’s case, he acknowledged being part of a problematic media “ecosystem.”
“[Journalists] churn out news as fast as possible so people like me will comment on it and people like us will share those comments and those links across the Internet,” he said. “I’m still very dubious about this decision, not least because having had anorexia I know what a distorting effect it has on one’s consciousness, and I hope more informed debate will continue, but spreading misinformation about the case helps no one and I’m sorry for it.”
I want to put all the blame on the English-speaking journalists but we're part of the same ecosystem. They churn out news as fast as possible so people like me will comment on it and people like us will share those comments and those links across the Internet.
— Ben Sixsmith (@BDSixsmith) June 5, 2019