Netherlands: Should a mentally ill teen be allowed to die?
“It was a story too horrible to be true,” said Naomi O’Leary in Politico.eu: A 17-year-old rape victim struggling with severe depression had been euthanized in the Netherlands. “And indeed it wasn’t true.” Noa Pothoven, who suffered from anorexia and post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from multiple sexual assaults, did die last week, several days after she began refusing all food and drink. Her parents respected her wishes not to be force-fed or resuscitated, and she passed away at home. Her death was not a result of active euthanasia, but while the Dutch media reported the cause correctly, the foreign press did not. An alarmist headline in Britain’s Daily Mail, “one of the most popular English-language sites in the world,” proclaimed that a Dutch teen rape victim had been “legally euthanized,” and the story spread like wildfire from there. Newspapers and news sites from the U.S. to Australia to India claimed the teen had been killed at an “end of life” clinic. In fact, Noa had sought euthanasia a year earlier at a Dutch clinic, but she was turned away.
You might ask why loving parents would let their daughter end her life, said Romy van der Poel in NRC Handelsblad (Netherlands). Because Noa had been in agony for years. She said that she was sexually assaulted at a school party at age 11 and raped by two men at age 14, after which she sank into anorexia and depression and was placed in a group home for mentally ill children, where her condition only worsened. She wrote a book, Winning or Learning, to describe her anguish. Last year, she stopped eating and was placed in a medically induced coma and force-fed, a trauma she said she would never again experience. “After years of fighting and fighting, it is finished,” she told her 10,000 Instagram followers shortly before her death. “After many conversations and assessments, it was decided that I will be released because my suffering is unbearable.”
It may not have been active euthanasia, said Juliaan van Acker in ThePostOnline.nl, but authorities still let this young woman die, and that is an indictment of our mental health system. A rape victim should never have been placed in a youth home with boys, nor did she belong among psychotics or schizophrenics. Noa might have rallied with “her family enlisted in her treatment as partners.” Instead, she languished on waitlists and her repeated requests for radical treatments such as shock therapy were denied.
That we could easily believe the Dutch had killed this girl tells us that legal euthanasia has gone too far, said Janet Street-Porter in the Daily Mail (U.K.). The Netherlands allows assisted suicide for troubled children as young as 12, “providing there is strong medical evidence that psychiatric conditions have made their lives ‘unbearable.’” But it is always too soon to give up on a child—and the fear now is that Noa will become a poster girl for other youngsters contemplating taking their own lives. “Every single suicide is one too many.” ■