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Noa Pothoven
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Debunking the viral news story of a Dutch teenager being legally euthanised

17-year-old Noa Pothoven’s death has been shrouded in hysteria and false information

A story about a 17-year-old Dutch teenager was trending worldwide in the last few days, with claims that she had been legally euthanised over the weekend. News stories from the Washington Post, the Daily Beast, the Daily Caller, Newsweek and The Sun detailed the case of Noa Pothoven, who had suffered of a number of sexual assaults, as well as a rape incident, since the age of 11. The false story maintained by these outlets said that the trauma survivor then accessed end-of-life care, and died at home.

Since then, it’s become clear that this was grossly misreported. Here’s what you really need to know about the story, how it went viral, and the danger of media hysteria around dangerous stories.

WHO IS NOA POTHOVEN? 

Noa Pothoven was a 17-year-old teenage girl from the Netherlands, who was confirmed as suffering from anorexia, depression, and PTSD, among various other mental health issues. In the autobiography that she wrote, Winen of Learen (Winning or Learning), the introspective 17-year old reflected starkly upon her traumatic experiences. Noting two separate assaults which occurred at parties from the age of 11, at just 14, Pothoven was also raped by two men in the Elderveld district of Arnhem, her hometown.

Aware of their daughter’s initial mental health problems, Frans and Lisette Pothoven did not understand the whole scope until the release of her book in 2018 – they claim to have been unaware of the extent of her sexual abuse. Afraid and ashamed, Noa had hidden this from her parents. Her mother Lisette stumbled across a collection of goodbye letters Noa had written for her family and friends. “I was in shock. We didn’t get it,” her mother told local publication De Gelderlander. “Only for a year and a half do we know what secret she has carried with her over the years”.

Noa had been transferred from three different youth care facilities over recent years, as well as being admitted to the Rijnstate hospital in a critical condition; seriously underweight, with the threat of organ failure, Noa was put into a coma and artificially fed. She had dropped out of school due to her illness.

In a now-deleted Instagram post from last week, Pothoven claimed that she had “stopped eating and drinking, and would be dead within 10 days”. “I breathe, but I no longer live,” she wrote.

WHAT WAS REPORTED AND MISREPORTED?

Stories circulated that Noa Pothoven underwent legal euthanasia in order to end her life, following her experience of assault, rape, and molestation. Various news sources globally had reported on the apparent death of the teen, citing a 2018 article from local newspaper de Gelderlander as evidence for this. This article details how the teen initially sought out euthanasia and was refused, as well as Noa opening up about her trauma that spurred her suicidal thoughts, as well as some input from her parents.

What many papers appear to have done is misrepresent the original story, potentially through mistranslation. Pothoven, age 16, made an inquiry at the Levenseid clinic in The Hague, where she asked if she was eligible for euthanasia or assistance with suicide.

Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands in accordance with the standards described in the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act, passed by the Dutch parliament in 2001. The clinic told the teenager no, as because of her age, her family would have had to have been aware and involved in the decision. Though chidren over 12 are allowed to request assisted suicide, it’s incredibly rare unless in cases of terminal illness. When her family were made aware of her inquiry, they requested and were denied electroshock treatment. According to She was then placed in palliative care.

“They think I'm too young to die. They think I should complete the trauma treatment and that my brain must first be fully grown. That lasts until you are 21. I'm devastated because I can't wait that long anymore,” Pothoven had told de Gelderlander. News sources then skewed this original article, with some even misquoting her parents’ remarks as some sort of posthumous reflection on their daughter.

It was reported in another Dutch news outlet, Algemeen Dagblad (AD), that on June 2 Noa passed away in her own living room, surrounded by her family and loved ones. Her sister had confirmed this with The Washington Post, in an article which now features an emboldened disclaimer. It was assumed, based off of Pothoven’s past, that her death had been due to euthanasia.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED? 

Now officially confirmed, the teenager died at the weekend, several days after she began to refuse all fluids and foods. Her parents and doctors agreed that they would not force feed her or instigate treatment against her will.

POLITICO Europe journalist Naomi O’Leary took to Twitter to debunk the narrative around her death. O’Leary spoke to the journalist who reported on the story originally at de Gelderlander, Paul Bolwerk, who had been closely in contact with the Pothoven family. Bolwerk informed O’Leary that Noa had attempted suicide many times in the lead up to her death, but confirmed that her death did in fact take place in her family home.

“Dutch media did not report that Pothoven died of euthanasia. But the English-language reporting of the story did, even as they cited Dutch news reports that did not speak of euthanasia,” tweeted O’Leary. She goes on to note that certain news sources, such as The Washington Post, had reported with certainty that Noa had been legally euthanised. A hasty culmination of rapid republishing resulted in incredibly skewed facts; “the deeply shocking story on such a controversial issue was irresistible, and became a top news item all over the world”.

“At the start of June,” O’Leary reported, “she began refusing all fluids and food, and her parents and doctors agreed not to force feed her.” Dutch news sites reiterate this, but English-language sites do not.

SO HOW DID THE FAKE STORY GO VIRAL?

The story seems to have mutated from a misunderstanding of the teenager’s social media post, via the original Dutch report, where she describes the doctors’ decision not to force-feed her. The now-deleted post said “after years of struggling and fighting, it is finished. After many conversations and assessments, it was decided that I will be released because my suffering is unbearable. It’s finished. I have not really been alive for so long, I survive, but not really. I breathe but no longer live.”

As German outlet DW reports, the story gathered speed in Australia and began trending worldwide. It was particularly prevalent in Italy, where debate is currently raging about the right-to-die laws, opposed by ultra-Conservative forces.

The story has been picked up in places where criticism around the Netherlands liberal laws surrounding euthansia are most prominent, like the United States. It fits into the narrative there of the fervant anti-abortion and Christian lobbies. For example, 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum claimed at one point that older Dutch people were being killed in medical euthanasia without their consent, which was completely untrue. In response to O’Leary’s now-viral thead, users began debated whether not treating Pothoven when she refused food and drink was a type of euthanasia, thoug the Dutch law around it is stringently defined.

Since O’Leary’s tweet, several outlets have added some brief editor’s notes to update their stories. “New information has come to light about this story, and we are in the process of updating this post” says TWJ

“This article has been updated to clarify that it is unclear if Noa Pothoven died from active euthanasia efforts, or whether doctors assisted in her reported death,” says The Daily Beast. As Jezebel reports, FOX continues to peddle the story, and it’s already huge on YouTube.