Was a Dutch Teenager Euthanized Because of Rape Trauma?

In early June 2019, a number of English-speaking news organizations reported that a 17-year-old Dutch girl named Noa Pothove had been “euthanized” at her request, following years of unsuccessful treatment due to the trauma of rape and sexual abuse:

Among organizations reporting the claim were the Washington Post, the Daily MailThe Sun, the New York PostFox News, and National Review:

National Review‘s headline has since been changed, as have all others linked above. Originally, they were as follows:

  • Washington Post: “An anguished Dutch teenager, who was raped as a child, is euthanized at her request
  • Daily Mail: “Dutch girl, 17, who was sexually abused at 11 and raped as a 14-year-old is legally euthanised at her home by ‘end-of-life’ clinic because she felt her life was unbearable due to depression”
  • The Sun: “‘IT’S FINISHED’ Raped girl, 17, dies from legal euthanasia in Holland after suffering ‘unbearable pain’ since childhood abuse”
  • New York Post: “Netherlands teen raped as child is legally euthanized due to ‘unbearable’ pain”
  • Fox News: “Dutch rape victim, 17, uses legal euthanasia to end life”

As myriad headlines attested, Pothoven’s death caused a firestorm of controversy in the English-language media, where it was instantly politicized. An example of the initial claims common in the altered reports came from Daily Mail‘s piece, which was later edited:

A 17-year-old girl who was raped as a young child and felt she could no longer go on living has been legally euthanised at home with the help of an ‘end-of-life clinic’.

Noa Pothoven died in a hospital bed in her living room after being granted the right to euthanasia in the Netherlands.

The Dutch teenager from Arnhem felt that life had become unbearable and she could no longer carry on after she was attacked and sexually assaulted on three separate occasions, beginning when she was just 11 years old.

Articles by the New York Post and The Sun respectively reported:

A 17-year-old Dutch girl was legally allowed to kill herself using euthanasia after she was raped when younger and spent years battling depression, according to a report [on June 4 2019].

“Love is letting go, in this case,” Noa Pothoven of Arnhem wrote in an Instagram post announcing her choice to die in the living room of her home Sunday.

Pothoven — who was sexually abused at 11 and raped three years later — said she was sick of suffering “unbearable pain.

A 17-year-old girl who was raped as a young child has been legally euthanised at her home after her suffering became “unbearable.”
Noa Pothoven died on Sunday in an “end-of-life clinic” bed in her living room in the Netherlands after battling mental health problems for years.

It is likely that claims about Pothoven’s purported death by euthanasia could have continued spreading ad nauseam. But early in the morning on June 5 2019, Politico Europe journalist Naomi O’Leary tweeted that the initial claims that Pothoven was “legally euthanized” were completely false:

O’Leary contacted a Dutch journalist who had long been reporting on Pothoven’s initial request for euthanasia — which was denied. He confirmed that Pothoven wasn’t euthanized:

It was a story too horrible to be true: A 17-year-old victim of sexual assault had been euthanized in the Netherlands.

And indeed, it wasn’t true. Noa Pothoven, a sufferer of anorexia and other mental illnesses, had previously sought euthanasia at a clinic without telling her parents — but she had been refused.

The teenager died at the weekend, several days after she began to refuse all fluids and foods. Her parents and doctors agreed not to force feed her or compel her into treatment against her will.

Was it euthanasia?

“No no no no, you can’t speak of active euthanization,” said Paul Bolwerk, a journalist at local newspaper the Gelderlander who has followed Pothoven’s struggles with mental illness and spoken with her parents about their battles to find an effective treatment … “During the last months she had undertaken several attempts to commit suicide,” he said.

“She got depressed more and more, and said, ‘Well, OK, now I press on the button. Now I say I will stop with all treatments.’ And that was very stressful for everyone, including the parents, the doctors, the psychiatrists,” he added. “So she stayed at home and decided not to eat and drink, and it was very hard to accept that for everyone.”

O’Leary continued, adding that Dutch media did not report that Pothoven had died by euthanasia:

But the English-language reporting of the story did, even as they cited Dutch news reports that did not speak of euthanasia.

The simple falsehood spread around the world at lightning speed, as news organizations copied and republished the story without stopping to check the facts.

In many cases, the error supported an editorial point of view. National Review‘s corrected article still contained this passage:

This is where all assisted suicide/euthanasia legalization laws eventually lead.  Once a society accepts killing is an acceptable way to eliminate human suffering, there is no limit as to the categories of suffering that will eventually justify eliminating the sufferer.

Although corrections have been added to many stories originally reporting Noa Pothoven was “legally euthanized,” few — if any — contained a record of correction. The inaccurate story spiked and died down, and many English-language readers remained unaware of the wide-scale corrections to stories they had already read and shared.