Noa Pothoven, a teenage rape survivor and author who struggled with depression and mental health issues, has been allowed to die in the Netherlands.
Initial reports in multiple news sites in the United States and Great Britain were that Pothoven was legally euthanized. However, Naomi O’Leary of Politico Europe, is reporting that Pothoven’s parents and doctors “agreed not to force feed her” when she refused to eat or drink.
“After electroshock therapy was refused, Pothoven insisted she wanted no further treatment and a hospital bed was set up at home in the care of her parents. At the start of June she began refusing all fluids and food, and her parents and doctors agreed not to force feed her,” wrote O’Leary on Twitter.
Despite her young age – only 17 – Noa had already accomplished so much. She was educating society about depression through a book about her life, a blog, an Instagram page, and a fundraising site. She didn’t always want to die. On the fundraising page, she once wrote, “I don’t want to just give up.”
In 2017, three people 17 or under were euthanized in the Netherlands; 73 people between the ages of 18 and 40 died that way, although more of those people were suffering from cancer than from psychiatric issues, according to the Regional Euthanasia Review Committee. However, O’Leary wrote: “A decision to move to palliative care and not to force feed at the request of the patient is not euthanasia. Dutch media did not report Noa Pothoven’s death as a case of euthanasia. This idea only appeared in English language pickups of Dutch reporting.”
This all has sparked a furious debate online. One man responded to O’Leary on Twitter: “She was 17 years old. She was allowed to starve to death…even though severely mentally ill. This is still an Assisted Suicide, no matter how it is spun.” But another man responded, “Was allowed to die doesn’t fit any description of euthanasia I’ve ever seen. As far as I understand, the point of pro-euthanasia crowd is to prevent needless suffering, not making sure doctors aren’t making you live against your will.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Noa Pothoven Called Herself a ‘Mental Illness Warrior’ Whose Suffering Was ‘Unbearable’
On Instagram, Pothoven characterized herself as a “Mental illness warrior (and blogger).” She also described herself as a vegetarian who was “#stronglikeafighter” and posted a link to her fundraising website.
The Instagram site has now been privatized.
In a heartbreaking post (no longer public), Pothoven explained why she wanted to die. “Love is letting go, in this case,” she wrote. She described the pain as unbearable, continuing, “Maybe this comes as a surprise to some, given my posts about hospitalization, but my plan has been there for a long time and is not impulsive.”
“I have quit eating and drinking for a while now, and after many discussions and evaluations, it was decided to let me go because my suffering is unbearable. I breathe, but I no longer live.”
She also wrote the following on Instagram the day before she died: “I deliberated for quite a while whether or not I should share this, but decided to do it anyway…I will get straight to the point: within a maximum of 10 days I will die…After years of battling and fighting, I am drained.”
2. On Her Fundraising Page, Noa Wrote That She Had Been Receiving Treatment for Severe, Medication Resistant Depression
Her still active fundraising page contains a post in which Noa proclaimed: “I don’t want to just give up.”
“I have been receiving treatment at GGZ for years. Clinics, part-time, outpatient treatment, hospital admissions. I am currently following Electro Convulsion Therapy, a treatment for severe, therapy and medication resistant depression. I don’t want to just give up,” she wrote.
“Since a while I have been busy trying to break through stigmas. For example, I published a book about my life (Winning or Learning) and I blog openly about my struggle on social media (especially on Instagram, @noamaestro). I would like to dedicate myself to charity by standing on a pole for as long as possible. Together with one of my best friends, Nienke. And of course the rest of the people who participate.”
“Because I don’t just give up.”
3. Noa Was an Author & She Described Herself as a Perfectionist
You can see Noa Pothoven’s book here.
The blurb described it as “Win or learn – Living with PTSD at a young age: depression, anorexia and self-harm.” The Sun reported that Noa was hospitalized in critical condition due to anorexia in the past.
The book summary’s translation reads:
“I was young. I was eleven when it started.
I was already a perfectionist, something that made me tense because I wanted to do everything perfectly at school.
However, it was still fairly normal.
Until I was assaulted twice, until I was raped.
Until then it was normal.
After that there was nothing left of my life.
In my book you can read how I do that,
or at least how I try.”
In August 2018, she imparted a similar message on Facebook, writing, “Difficult times may be there too. No matter how difficult they are. Go on… and get up again.” She also posted photos of herself with friends, with family, and with baby bunnies. In May 2018, she wrote on Facebook: “This is the end of the beginning.” In March 2018, she wrote, “Animals are the best therapists.”
4. Pothoven Died at Her Own Home After an Assisted Suicide Clinic Turned Her Down
According to the Sun, the teenager died in her “bed in her living room in the Netherlands.”
According to the Sun, Noa was assaulted when she was 11 and 12 at “children’s parties” and then was raped by two men at age 14.
However, she had been turned by an assisted suicide clinic due to her young age.
She approached the assisted suicide clinic without her family’s knowledge at first and was told she didn’t qualify. “Half a year ago a 16-year-old girl from Arnhem approached the Levenseind clinic in The Hague without her parents’ knowledge. Her question: am I eligible for euthanasia or assistance with suicide? The answer was ‘no.'” explained the site Gederlander, which included a video interview with Noa.
“They think I’m too young to die. They think I should complete the trauma treatment and that my brain must first be fully grown. That lasts until you are 21. I’m devastated, because I can’t wait that long anymore,” she told the site then.
5. In the Netherlands, Children as Young as 12 Can be Euthanized
According to the Sun, Dutch minister Lisa Westerveld visited the teenager before she died.
However, according to the British news site, euthanasia – even of children – is legal in the Netherlands in certain circumstances. If a doctor is willing to sign off that a person’s suffering is “unbearable with no clear resolution in sight,” youths as young as 12 qualify for euthanization in that country, the Sun reported.
According to Euro News, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium “are the only countries in the European Union that allow voluntary euthanasia.”
A 2017 report of the Regional Euthanasia Review Committee did find some concern over the practice. “…in autumn 2017 a number of psychiatrists publicly called into question the practice of euthanasia in cases involving patients with a psychiatric disorder. Whether a psychiatric patient who requests euthanasia is decisionally competent and has exhausted all treatment options is a question that, in their opinion, can often only be answered by the attending psychiatrist,” the report said.
Most cases, though, involved patients suffering from ailments like “cancer, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary diseases, early-stage dementia, a combination of these conditions, or multiple geriatric syndromes,” the report said. The report found 3,384 males were euthanized that year, and 3,201 females. “This is 4.4% of the total number of people who died in the Netherlands in that year,” indicated the report. “In 83 notified cases of euthanasia the patient’s suffering was caused by a psychiatric disorder.”
The report also broke down the ages of those euthanized in 2017, the latest year for which a report is available. “The highest number of notifications of euthanasia involved people in their seventies (2,002 cases, 30.4%), followed by people in their
eighties (1,634 cases, 24.8%) and people in their sixties (1,405 cases, 21.3%),” says the report.
“In 2017 the RTEs received three notifications of euthanasia involving a minor between the ages of 12 and 17. There were 73 notifications concerning people aged between 18 and 40. In 46 of these cases, the patient’s suffering was caused by cancer and in 13 cases it was caused by a psychiatric disorder.”
This article was updated with O’Leary’s comments to correct the notion that the teen was legally euthanized.