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Story About Dutch Teen’s Death Somehow Got So Widely—And Incorrectly—Reported As ‘Legal Euthanasia’ That Even The Pope Tweeted About It

On Tuesday, June 4, the news outlet Mail Online posted a headline and story which read:

“Dutch girl, 17, who was sexually abused at 11 and raped as a 14-year-old is legally euthanised [sic] at her home by ‘end-of-life’ clinic because she felt her life was unbearable due to depression.”

By the next day, the story had become an international controversy, with details of the teenager’s alleged euthanasia (or suicide aided by a physician) picked up by:

The Sun, Daily Star, The Independent, UNILAD, Sky News, The Times, the Italian press, the Australian News Corp–owned by News.com.au, The New York Post, the Daily Beast, NBC–part-owned by Euronews, and The Washington Post.”

News of the teen’s death was trending to such a degree in Italy that the Pope himself weighed in on the topic on Twitter.

There was just one problem.

The 17-year-old, Noa Pothoven, did not actually die of euthanasia at all. 

Diligent reporting by Naomi O’Leary of Politico Europe revealed that, although Pothoven had requested euthanasia earlier in the year, she was denied the request. 

It is, in fact, legal in the Netherlands for 17-year-olds to receive euthanasia, but only in very select cases. A spokesperson for DutchNews told Buzzfeed:

“There are very few young adults in euthanasia clinics, and it’s even rarer to see them for psychiatric reasons. Euthanasia of someone who is 60 is very different to that of someone who is 16. But we follow the law, which says someone must be in unbearable suffering with no other alternative.”

Despite physicians’ refusing to take Pothoven’s life, her story remains a sad one. After being denied the procedure, the 17-year-old began refusing to eat or drink in June 2018.

Her parents and doctors agreed not to force feed her, and instead offered palliative care (treatment focused on minimizing the suffering of the patient rather than curing the ailment).

After months of starving herself, Pothoven died in her home this past Sunday, June 2.

O’Leary explained her fact-check process, one she thinks others should have utilized. 

Many news outlets quickly corrected their own stories and headlines to reflect the reality of the situation.

Charles Lane, a writer for The Washington Post, apologized for unintentionally misleading anyone on Twitter while also making it clear the story wasn’t as unbelievable as it sounded.

It turns out Pothoven had requested euthanasia at the age of 16, when parental consent is still required. By age 17, it is only required that parents be notified.

In either case, however, the teen must be badly suffering with no other course of action.

 

Twitter was grateful to O’Leary for taking the time to research the facts of the matter!

What’s that saying? “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened in this case.

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Written by Collin Gossel

Collin Gossel is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn, New York, but there are nights when he looks up at the stars and wistfully thinks to himself “there’s got to be more out there…” You can catch Collin improvising new musicals every Tuesday night at the Magnet Theater’s Musical Megawatt, or follow his unfiltered thoughts on Twitter and Instagram @CollinGossel.--