Everyone Got the Dutch Teen 'Euthanasia' Story Wrong
Plus: Oakland decriminalizes mushrooms, and the ethics of "doxxing"
Yes, The Netherlands allows physician-assisted suicide in certain circumstances. But 17-year-old Noa Pothoven's tragic story of sexual assault and subsequent mental health problems did not come to an end with the state permitting a doctor to kill her—despite what many in English-language media have reported.
Pothoven did indeed apply with a clinic for The Netherlands' legal euthanasia process, but physicians reportedly denied her request, saying she was too young, her brain was not fully developed yet, and she should try more trauma treatment first.
Her recent death came after a long struggle with anorexia and depression, in which the teen ultimately refused to consume food, water, or anything to keep her alive.
News of this tragedy reached international audiences via a flurry of media reports that implied or outright said that the state had officially granted Pothoven's euthanasia application. But initial reports in Dutch media said no such thing, as POLITICO Europe reporter Naomi O'Leary was the first to point out.
Outlets such as The Daily Mail (London), The Daily Beast, and EuroNews "are all wrong," tweeted O'Leary. On Wednesday morning "It took me about 10 mins to check with the reporter who wrote the original Dutch story."
Infuriatingly, it's too late: this misinformation has already spread all over the world from Australia to the United States to India. Her name, #noapothoven is even trending in Italy. pic.twitter.com/CN22J7xdkK
— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) June 5, 2019
The Dutch reporter, Paul Bolwerk of De Gelderlander, wrote in a lengthy 2018 profile of Pothoven that she had previously requested legal euthanasia without her parents' knowledge but was turned down. Many on social media have been shaming the parents for allegedly "allowing" her to go through state-sanctioned assisted suicide; they did no such thing.
Hurling insults at Pothoven's poor parents is only one strain of the strange moral panic and tribal vitriol that this story quickly spawned.
Conservative writer David Marcus suggested the story was emblematic of the divide between newly popular Catholic theocrats and more traditional conservatives like David French, positing both that the very pro-life French and others like him would roll over for pro-teen euthanasia policies in America and that this will likely be on the liberal agenda soon.
Not only is that all bizarre and unlikely, it bears no relation to what actually happened in this extremely sad story that everyone wants to paint their culture war all over.
As Bolwerk's original story noted, and O'Leary summarized: "The family had tried many kinds of psychiatric treatment and Noa Pothoven was repeatedly hospitalised; she made a series of attempts to kill herself in recent months. In desperation the family sought electro shocktherapy, which was refused due to her young age."
Pothoven—who had been sexually assaulted as an 11- and 14-year-old and wrote a book about her struggles afterward—was set up with in-home care but, at the beginning of this month, began to refuse all food and fluids. After watching her struggle and trying so many different options for years ("we have tried everything," they told Bolwerk), her parents made what was surely a heart-wrenching decision not to keep her alive through force-feeding.
Decisions like these have long been controversial, and surely many will still disagree with (but can hopefully find compassion for) her parents and doctors in this situation. But as O'Leary pointed out, "a decision to move to palliative care and not to force feed at the request of the patient is not euthanasia. Dutch media did not report Noa Pothoven's death as a case of euthanasia. This idea only appeared in English language pickups of Dutch reporting."
Ultimately, we have an anorexic and depressed survivor of sexual assault, near legal adulthood, who chose to stop struggling and her parents who, after exhausting many options, chose to accept that. Whatever you think of that, please stop politicizing this private tragedy.
How much privacy can we rightfully expect? Writer and Reason contributor Cathy Young asks an interesting question about media versus social media culture and the expectations of online activists and content creators.
Here's a question: Do you have a right to be an online activist and maintain anonymity? My inclination would be to say no. You participate in public life, your identity is fair game. In this case, I'm not sure what the guy was doing counts as "public life."
— Cathy Young (@CathyYoung63) June 5, 2019
Shrooms OK in Oakland. Following Denver's lead, the city of Oakland, California, just moved to decriminalize the consumption or possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms and their ilk. "The City Council voted unanimously to decriminalize the adult use and possession of magic mushrooms and other entheogenic, or psychoactive, plants and fungi," reports NBC News.