If you are experiencing distress, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit online here.
In early June 2019, multiple English-language news outlets, from tabloids to ordinarily reliable national news media, reported that Noa Pothoven, a Dutch teenager and author, had ended her life via euthanasia after asking for and acquiring permission to do so from government officials in the Netherlands. The story, while sensational, was not reported accurately.
On 5 June 2019, the Levenseindekliniek, or end-of-life clinic, in the Hague had to release a statement to quell such reports:
The End-of-Life Clinic is approached from all over the world for a reaction to the death [of] seventeenth-year-old Noa Pothoven. However, due to privacy rules, we cannot make any statements about this.
To put an end to incorrect reporting (in foreign media in particular) about the death, we refer to the statement made by friends of Noa this afternoon: Noa Pothoven did not die of euthanasia. To stop her suffering, she has stopped eating and drinking.
The Life-End Clinic deals exclusively with euthanasia and does so explicitly within the Dutch legal framework.
As the name and statement of the aforementioned clinic imply, the Netherlands does allow euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide under some circumstances, but that did not occur in the case of Pothoven. It is nnclear is why this story was so widely misreported, because the Dutch language newspaper De Gelderlander reported it accurately.
De Gelderlander stated on 2 June 2019 that Pothoven’s sister announced the 17-year-old had died. The paper also reported that six months prior, Pothoven had approached the Levenseindekliniek without her parents’ knowledge and asked if she was eligible for assisted suicide or euthanasia. The answer? “No.” Pothoven was too young, she was reportedly told, and her brain was not fully developed.
The source of Pothoven’s anguish was sexual assault: she was raped when she was 11 and 14 years of age, and she suffered from severe psychological disorders including depression and anorexia. Her traumatic journey was made public when she authored a book titled (in English) Winning or Learning. Her last days were spent in a hospital bed in her family’s home saying goodbye to loved ones, according to Dutch news reports.
After extensive interventions that included involuntary hospitalization and an induced coma to enable tube-feeding, Pothoven announced in a now-deleted Instagram post that she had made the decision to end her life on her own.
Reason monthly magazine observed that the erroneous version of the story resulted in a “strange moral panic” and blank slate upon which “everyone wants to paint their culture war all over.”
This is hardly the first time a tragedy originally reported in another language resulted in erroneous or exaggerated news stories in English news media. A questionable story circulated for years on anti-abortion websites claiming that a baby born after a failed abortion was left alone screaming to die. In fact, the tale likely originated with a case in which a baby that could not have survived due to terminal defects was given palliative care at a hospital but was not resuscitated when it died of natural causes.
If you are experiencing distress, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit them online here.