After the death of Dutch teenager Noa Pothoven late last week, international media began connecting her death to euthanasia. This narrative spread around the world, even reaching Pope Francis’s Twitter. But most of the world got the story wrong. She did not die from physician assisted suicide. Rather, her death was caused by starvation, a result of years she had suffered from mental health ailments.
When she was 11 years old, Pothoven was sexually assaulted at a party and raped by two men three years later, according to BBC. The pain she acquired from these events manifested in diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and eating disorders. She had visited a physician to discuss euthanasia but was denied due to her age and potential to be cured. Eventually she turned her story into an autobiography, called Winning of Learning. She said she had hoped the book would help others who had experienced similar abuse.
Although Pothoven talked about improving the lives of other young people, her life deteriorated. “After years of battling and fighting, I am drained,” she said in an Instagram post. “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.” Her sister shared news that she passed away on June 2.
Pothoven was not given the lethal cocktail of drugs provided for euthanasia. She went on a hunger strike and her family eventually allowed her to forgo tube feeding. She used palliative care to make her last days as bearable as possible. This idea of allowing a teenager to forgo medical treatment resulting in death may have confused international media and led them to connect the Netherland’s euthanasia laws to the story of Pothoven’s.