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Dutch girl, 17, legally ends her own life at euthanasia clinic

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Dutch girl, 17, legally ends her own life at euthanasia clinic

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. 

Noa Pothoven announced her decision in an Instagram post (above), in which she asked people not to try and change her mind and said ‘love is letting go’

In Holland, children as young as 12 can be granted euthanasia if they desire, but only after a doctor concludes that the patient’s suffering is unbearable with no clear end in sight.

In 2017, some 6,585 people chose euthanasia to end their own lives in the Netherlands, about 4.4 per cent of the total number of more than 150,000 registered deaths in the country, according to the Regional Euthanasia Review Committee which strictly monitors all cases. 

What are the conditions for legal euthanasia in the Netherlands?  

Dutch law allows euthanasia when each of the following conditions are met:

  • The patient’s suffering is unbearable with no prospect of improvement
  • The request to end their life must be voluntary (without the influence of mental illness and drugs) and persist over time
  • The patient must be fully aware of their condition, prospects and options
  • A second, independent doctor must confirm the above conditions are met
  • The death must be carried out in a medically appropriate fashion with the doctor present 
  • The patient is at least 12 years old, and patients under 16 require parental consent 
  • Afterwards the doctor must report the cause of death to the municipal coroner 

The practice is hotly debated but illegal in the UK, but it’s legal in some US states, Canada and Belgium. 

In a social media post one day before her death last Sunday, Noa made her decision public.

She wrote: ‘I deliberated for quite a while whether or not I should share this, but decided to do it anyway. 

‘Maybe this comes as a surprise to some, given my posts about hospitalisation, but my plan has been there for a long time and is not impulsive.

‘I will get straight to the point: within a maximum of 10 days I will die. 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.’

Noa added that she never felt as though she was ‘alive’, rather surviving, writing: ‘I breathe, but I no longer live.’

Finally she asked her friends and followers on Instagram to ‘not convince me that this is not good, this is my decision and it is final. ‘Love is letting go, in this case,’ she added.      

According to the Dutch newspaper De Gelderlander, Noa’s parents had no idea she was unwell until her mother discovered a plastic envelope in her room filled with farewell letters to her parents, friends and acquaintances. 

‘I was in shock,’ Lisette told De Gelderlander. ‘We didn’t get it. Noa is sweet, beautiful, smart, social and always cheerful. How is it possible that she wants to die? 

‘We have never received a real answer. We just heard that her life was no longer meaningful. For only a year and a half have we known what secret she has carried with her over the years.’  

That secret, as outlined in her book, was that Noa was assaulted at a schoolfriend’s party when she was 11 years old, and one year later at another teenager’s party.  

Noa was granted euthanasia because her case met all the conditions required by law since the practice was legalised in the Netherlands in 2002

At the age of 14, she was raped by two men in the Arnhem neighbourhood of Elderveld – but stayed quiet ‘out of fear and shame’.  

‘I relive the fear, that pain every day,’ she said last year. ‘Always scared, always on my guard. And to this day my body still feels dirty. My house has been broken into, my body, that can never be undone.’         

She spent the last few years going in and out of hospitals, institutions and specialist centers, and her parents started working less to care for their daughter.

During her time in compulsory mental health care she wore only a specially-made dress, which was so strong that it could not be torn and allow her to take her own life. 

She wrote in her autobiography that these stints in isolation made her feel ‘almost feel like a criminal, while I haven’t so much as stolen sweets from a store in my life’. 

Last year she was admitted to the Rijnstate hospital in Arnhem in a critical condition; seriously underweight and close to organ failure. She was put in a coma and fed artificially.   

Noa was making her way through a bucket list and had ticked off fourteen of the fifteen wishes, such as riding a scooter for the first time, drinking alcohol, smoking a cigarette and getting a tattoo, according to De Gelderlander.

Noa and her mother, Lisette, who according to her ‘has always been there for me’. At age 17 Noa did not legally require her mother’s consent to be euthanised 

Noa’s parents Frans and Lisette (pictured) were at odds with their daughter and wanted her to live, but at 17 she no longer required their permission to be euthanised 

Noa’s family (pictured) had hoped that she would ‘see bright spots again’, ‘perhaps fall in love’ or learn to discover that ‘life is worth living’

‘There is one wish left: eating a bar of white chocolate,’ she told the newspaper. ‘That is my favorite candy, but I haven’t tasted it in years. That is because of my anorexia. I don’t dare to eat it yet… because of the fear of getting fat.’     

Noa penned an autobiography called ‘Winning or Learning’ about her battles with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anorexia after being molested and raped at a young age. 

She said she wanted her book to help vulnerable youngsters who struggle with life, saying that the Netherlands does not have specialised institutions or clinics where teenagers can go for psychological or physical aid.

‘The book should be mandatory for social workers, but also for children’s judges and municipalities, who are responsible for youth care,’ her mother Lisette said.   

Noa Pothoven, a 17-year-old girl who was raped as a youngster and suffered with mental health issues, who was legally euthanised in the Netherlands 

Noa Pothoven with her award-winning autobiography Winning or Learning, which details her suicide attempts and struggles with depression and anorexia

Lisette and Noa’s father Frans had hoped that Noa would ‘see bright spots again’, ‘perhaps fall in love’ or learn to discover that ‘life is worth living’. 

Lisette told De Gelderlander last year that Noa and was ‘at odds’ with her parents, who had hoped electroshock treatment for major depression would help her symptoms. 

‘We, her parents, want her to choose the path of life. Noa really doesn’t want to die at all. She only longs for peace,’ Lisette said.  


Assisted dying refers to both voluntary active euthanasia and physician-assisted death. These two types of assisted dying distinguish a difference in the degree of the doctor’s involvement. 

Only three countries in Europe approve of assisted dying as a whole: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. 

The first two even recognize requests from minors under strict circumstances, while Luxembourg excludes them from the legislation.

Switzerland, Germany, Finland, and Austria allow physician-assisted death under specific scenarios.

Countries such as Spain, Sweden, England, Italy, Hungary, and Norway allow passive euthanasia under strict circumstances. 

Passive euthanasia is when a patient suffers from an incurable disease and decides not to apply life-prolonging treatments, such as artificial nutrition or hydration.

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in seven US states and the District of Columbia. It is an option given to individuals by law in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. It is an option given to individuals in Montana via court decision 

Sources: Euronews and CNN

But when she turned 17, Noa no longer needed her parents consent in order to apply for euthanasia.  

This is not the only part of the Netherlands’ assisted dying laws that have proved controversial.  

In 2016, 41-year-old Mark Langedijk ended his life by fatal injection rather than carry on living as an alcoholic.

According to an account published by his brother, Mr Langedijk decided that death was the only way to escape from his addiction to drink and he was euthanised by a GP at his parents’ home. 

At the time, British MPs said Mr Langedijk’s case was evidence of the ‘slippery slope’ effect in which legal euthanasia can be spread to wider and wider groups of people. 

Fiona Bruce, Tory MP for Congleton and co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, said: ‘This news is deeply concerning and yet another reason why assisted suicide and euthanasia must never be introduced into the UK.

‘What someone suffering from alcoholism needs is support and treatment to get better from their addiction – which can be provided – not to be euthanised.’ 

In November A Dutch doctor became the first to face charges for breaching the euthanasia laws, after he was reprimanded for administering a lethal injection to an elderly woman with dementia despite her ‘resistance’.

An inquiry into the 74-year-old woman’s death revealed that the woman, who had Alzheimer’s, was surreptitiously given a coffee containing a sedative, and then had to be held down by her family as she appeared to struggle against the injection.

The chief public prosecutor at The Hague said the doctor, whose name has not been publicly released, could not have been certain that the patient wanted to die. 

Others feel more positively about the Dutch law. The daughter of a couple who were granted a rare dual request for euthanasia in 2017 said:  ‘They gave each other a big kiss and passed away confidently holding hands. According to their own wish.’   

Nic and Trees Elderhorst, both 91, had made the request to die together because of Nic’s failing health and Trees’ inability to take care of her ailing husband.   

Nic suffered a stroke which greatly reduced his mobility and left him in constant pain. Numerous health complications and meant he required constant care an antibiotics to keep him alive.

The burden of caring for her husband meant Trees’ health had also begun to decline to the point where she felt unable to give him adequate care.

Her memory had been badly affected and only with the help of neighbours, friends and healthcare workers did the couple manage keep going.

Both feared that if one of them were to die, the one left behind would be left to deteriorate in a nursing home.

According to Dutch law, euthanasia is legal as long as it is performed in accordance with the strict standards described in the ‘Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act’ which was passed in parliament in 2001 and became law in 2002.

The law code reads: ‘Any person who deliberately terminates another person’s life at that person’s express and earnest request shall be liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding twelve years or a fifth-category fine. 

But prosecutions can be suspended for doctors who carry out the practice under strict prerequisites.            

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