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.”
An anguished Dutch teenager, who was raped as a child, dies after euthanasia request https://t.co/DMO4OX49RB— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) June 5, 2019
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.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are a defeat for all. We are called never to abandon those who are suffering, never giving up but caring and loving to restore hope.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 5, 2019
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.
A 17-year-old rape victim was NOT euthanised in the Netherlands.@euronews @Independent @DailyMailUK @dailybeast are all wrong— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) June 5, 2019
It took me about 10 mins to check with the reporter who wrote the original Dutch story.
Noa Pothoven asked for euthanasia and was refused (cont.) pic.twitter.com/e7PYQSCxG1
I spoke to Paul Bolwerk, a reporter who has been covering the story for @DeGelderlander since 2018. Noa Pothoven had been severely ill with anorexia and other conditions for some time. Without telling her parents, she sought and was refused euthanasia https://t.co/qpMdzPHEJZ— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) June 5, 2019
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.”
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.— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) June 5, 2019
After electroshock therapy was refused, 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.— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) June 5, 2019
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).
A decision to move to palliative care and not to force feed at the request of the patient is not euthanasia.— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) June 5, 2019
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.
After months of starving herself, Pothoven died in her home this past Sunday, June 2.
How has this happened? @newscomauHQ and @laubchad have questions to answer, as authors of early English-language articles that made a leap to conclude euthanasia from the report that Pothoven once asked for it, and an Instagram post in which she wrote that she was going to die pic.twitter.com/pIdBfmxEPS— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) June 5, 2019
O’Leary explained her fact-check process, one she thinks others should have utilized.
I had immediate questions reading the Dutch articles about whether this was a case of euthanasia or not. It would have been an enormous deal in the Netherlands if a 17-year-old really had euthanasia. It's really easy to check. Like I say, took me about 10 minutes. Infuriating.— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) June 5, 2019
If you ever worry about whether you can trust a story or not, a good way to check is to look up whether @Reuters is reporting it or not. I trained to be a journalist with @Reuters, this is what they do.— Naomi O'Leary (@NaomiOhReally) June 5, 2019
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.
Sorry that I gave credence to and tweeted a story about which I should have awaited more information.— Charles Lane (@ChuckLane1) June 5, 2019
The facts surrounding the death of Noa Pothoven in the Netherlands remain unclear, but it does not seem that she was euthanized by physicians as the stories I retweeted reported
My apologies to followers.— Charles Lane (@ChuckLane1) June 5, 2019
One reason I gave credence to the reports is that they were plausible. It is legal in the Netherlands for a 17-year-old to request euthanasia for a mental illness, and legal for doctors to honor such a request.https://t.co/rQgNTHUTNq
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.
Prior parental knowledge is required for a 17- or 18-year-old but not prior parental consent— Charles Lane (@ChuckLane1) June 5, 2019
The reported “refusal” by the Dutch End of Life Clinic to euthanize Noa Pothoven occurred last year, when she was still under 16, and the law required parental approval.
@washingtonpost report today, as well as one in BusinessInsider about this implies that this is the reason she was denied then.— Charles Lane (@ChuckLane1) June 5, 2019
The status of her request for euthanasia after turning 17 if any remains ambiguous. The clinic she approached previously has refused to comment on recent events, beyond denying it administered euthanasia, citing “privacy.”https://t.co/eAIlGAGXxQ— Charles Lane (@ChuckLane1) June 5, 2019
Twitter was grateful to O’Leary for taking the time to research the facts of the matter!
Thank you Naomi for setting the record straight!— Natasha Gerson (@Sanspareille) June 5, 2019
"A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has even got its pants on."— Adam Spencer (@AdamSpencer95) June 5, 2019
Damn this went viral and none of them bothered to check..— عبدالله الترّاك (@aalshammari88) June 5, 2019
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.