17-Year-Old Girl Who Sought Euthanasia Dies in Netherlands

By Audrey.McNamara@thedailybeast.com (Audrey McNamara)

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to remove the suggestion that Noa Pothoven died as a result of euthanasia efforts. “Noa Pothoven did not die of euthanasia. To stop her suffering, she has stopped eating and drinking,” her friends said in a statement provided to The Daily Beast by the End of Life Clinic.

A 17-year-old Dutch girl who sought to be euthanized after she said the pain of being raped and molested as a child had become “unbearable” died at home this weekend after she “stopped eating and drinking,” friends said Wednesday.

Noa Pothoven, from Arnhem, Netherlands, wrote in an Instagram post a day before her reported death that she breathes “but no longer lives.” Her sister said Sunday that she had died. It is unclear what role, if any, doctors played.

“It’s finished. I have not really been alive for so long, I survive, and not even that... I will get straight to the point: within a maximum of 10 days I will die,” Pothoven wrote in her native Dutch on Saturday. “After years of battling and fighting, I am drained. 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 deliberated for quite a while whether or not I should share this, but decided to do it anyway,” Pothoven wrote to her more than 9,000 followers on Instagram. “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.”

Pothoven openly shared her long struggle dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anorexia on social media. The teenager also penned an award-winning autobiography titled Winning or Learning, which detailed her assault and rape at a young age and her work to try to overcome the psychological ramifications. She concealed the sexual abuse for many years out of a sense of shame and fear, according to reports.

In her book, she wrote that she was sexually assaulted at a school party when she was 11 years old, and was raped by two men just three years later, when she was 14.

Her mother, Lisette, said at the time that her daughter’s book should be mandatory reading for social workers and those responsible for adolescent psychological care. She also publicly criticized the fragmented mental-health system in the Netherlands, calling the bureaucracy “maddening.”

Pothoven had previously sought euthanasia at the End of Life Clinic in The Hague, but was reportedly turned away due to her age. “It tears me apart, because I can’t wait that long,” she told de Gelderlander in December 2018.

Children as young as 12 can legally seek to be euthanized in the Netherlands, but a doctor must first determine that the patient’s pain is unbearable before they can be accepted. Seven such cases were accepted between 2002 and 2015, according to Alliance Vita, an international association that aids individuals and policy makers dealing with bioethical issues.

The practice was intended for those suffering from terminal cancer and similar excruciating physical conditions, but the law also allows people suffering from severe psychological pain to seek euthanasia. It is limited to those with intact mental faculties and “unbearable and hopeless suffering.”

Under Dutch law, the patient must repeatedly ask to die, a second doctor must agree in writing that the death is justified, and a post-mortem panel, made up of a doctor, a jurist, and an ethics expert, have to confirm that those requirements have been met.

Many in the country still feel uncomfortable with legal euthanasia, particularly for minors and those suffering from psychiatric illnesses.

Lisa Westerveld, a member of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands, said she visited Pothoven at her home in the days before she reportedly died. “It was nice to see her again. It is also very unreal,” Westerveld told Dutch newspaper de Gelderlander. “Noa was incredibly strong and very open. I will never forget her. We will continue her struggle.”

Pothoven told her followers not to try and talk her out of her decision. “This is my decision and it is final,” she wrote. “Love is letting go, in this case.”

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