When people are suffering mental anguish and want to kill themselves, should we simply let them die?
Noa Pothoven was a troubled 17-year-old in the Netherlands. She had suffered sexual assault at 11 and rape at 14. She was afflicted with anorexia. She had begged to die and succeeded in taking her life last Sunday.
The story that first exploded worldwide was that Pothoven was euthanized by the Dutch state.
But the original outrage subsided after subsequent news stories highlighted her death hadn’t actually been approved by the official euthanasia authority in the Netherlands. She had previously asked a clinic in The Hague to euthanize her but was denied because she didn’t have her parents’ permission.
Had Pothoven tried again, she may have gotten that approval. Natalie O’Neill reported for The Post that The Netherlands “allows children from 12 through 16 to kill themselves with permission from a parent and if a doctor agrees that their suffering is unbearable and likely to continue. At age 17, children no longer need their parents’ consent.”
Naomi O’Leary, a correspondent with Politico Europe, who was among the first to challenge the euthanasia story, tweeted, “Pothoven insisted she wanted no further treatment and a hospital bed was set up at home in the care of her parents. At the start of June she began refusing all fluids and food, and her parents and doctors agreed not to force feed her.”
The story didn’t horrify people all over the world because the state was involved but because a teenager was allowed to die
The state was not involved in killing Pothoven but is what ultimately happened so much better?
Whether this was euthanasia or regular suicide, something went terribly wrong here.
A Gallup poll last year found that 72 percent of Americans “continue to believe that doctors should be legally allowed, at a patient’s and a family’s request, to end a terminally ill patient’s life using painless means.” We picture the ailing elderly, the hopeless cancer patient, the people suffering debilitating, life-destroying diseases. It’s a mercy killing. The person can take no more.
We do not picture a 17-year-old, agonized with mental illness after trauma. The very definition of euthanasia, “the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma,” doesn’t apply.
The story didn’t horrify people all over the world because the state was involved but because a teenager was allowed to die. Whether it was because of intervention or because a decision was made not to stop her death is irrelevant.
A few days before her death, she posted to Instagram that she was planning to end her life. In a since-deleted post, Pothoven wrote “I will get straight to the point: Within a maximum of 10 days I will die.” She didn’t die suddenly from anorexia. She planned to die, and then she did. She starved herself to death while people around her watched. Is it so different than leaping from a bridge and having everyone step aside?
According to a report released in January by the World Health Organization, suicide is “the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds globally.” In America, it’s the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds. As recently as 2010, it was the 10th-leading cause. It is a growing problem and one that is contagious. Studies have shown that high-profile suicides lead to more suicides. Pothoven’s death could easily have that same result.
We want people to have autonomy and ease their suffering as much as possible. But that doesn’t mean we just allow people to kill themselves. Mental illness is difficult to combat, but giving up on a 17-year-old should never be normal or acceptable.
Pothoven’s death was not death by appointment. The media got that wrong. But what it actually was should still shock and appall us.
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