Dutch teen who survived rape, and was refused medically assisted death, dies at home

A 17-year-old Dutch teen has reportedly died from starvation after a battle over whether she was legally eligible for an assisted death. Noa Pothoven’s sister announced her death earlier this week, saying she died at the family’s home.

Pothoven was sexually assaulted at age 11, then later raped by two men at the age of 14. She had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia, and depression. The teen had documented her journey on an Instagram account, which has now been deleted, saying she sought treatment but the suffering was too severe.

Noa Pothoven in an Instagram photo.

According to Dutch newspaper The Gelderlander, Pothoven had approached an end-of-life clinic, asking if she would be eligible for medically assisted dying. But the clinic told her she was too young.

“They consider that I am too young to die,” she told The Gelderlander. “They think I should finish my trauma treatment and that my brain must first be fully grown. That lasts until your 21st birthday. It’s broken me, because I can’t wait that long.”

Many previous media reports had incorrectly indicated that Pothoven eventually received a medically assisted death, but Pothoven’s cause of death has not been confirmed.

Days before her death, she had shared on social media that she planned on starving herself. According to The Guardian, Pothoven was living in a hospital bed at home, but refused to be treated.

The newspaper explained that Dutch medical guidelines state a patient cannot be provided “treatment, nursing or care” without their consent.

A spokesperson for Dutch MP Lisa Westerveld, who visited Pothoven shortly before her death, told DutchNews: “As far as we know, she died because she didn’t eat any more.”

The spokesperson added that the teen had spent her last few days saying goodbye to loved ones.

Pothoven was also the author of an award-winning autobiography titled Winnen of Leren which translates to “Winning or learning.” In the book, she recounted her struggles in seeking medical care and the numerous waitlists she was placed on.

“If you have a serious heart disease, you can undergo surgery within a few weeks,” Pothoven told The Gelderlander. “But if you become acutely mentally ill, then they say casually: Unfortunately, we are full, just go on the waiting list.”

According to the latest statistics available, 6,585 people died by assisted suicide in Netherlands in 2017 — that’s four per cent of all deaths that year.

Assisted dying has been legal in Netherlands since 2002, but the patients must meet several requirements, including prolonged suffering that has no prospect of improvement.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. For mental health programs and services around Canada, please refer to the list here. 

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