Noa Pothoven

Noa Pothoven (8 December 2001 – 2 June 2019) was a Dutch mental health activist and author. Her death at the age of 17 sparked global controversy due to public statements she made about her wish to die, her activism concerning youth mental health care, and foreign media reports that incorrectly attributed her eventual death to active euthanasia. Many foreign news outlets wrongfully stated Pothoven was euthanised under the Dutch 2001 Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act.


Life and activism

Noa Pothoven was born in 2001 in Arnhem and had two younger siblings. Her autobiography, Winnen of Leren (English: 'Winning or Learning'), which was published when she was 16 years old and criticised youth mental health care in her country, won a prize for non-fiction[1][2] and made her well-known.[3]

In December 2018, De Gelderlander published an interview with Pothoven and her family about her autobiography and Pothoven's wish to have euthanasia. In the interview, Pothoven spoke of her battle with PTSD as a result of rape, her anorexia and self-harm, her having to wait over-long for treatment, and her disappointment about being refused euthanasia after 20 hospitalisations due to several suicide attempts.[4][5] She requested assisted suicide at a clinic in the Hague without her parents' knowledge and was refused based on her age.[6][7] In her book, she wrote that she had been sexually assaulted at a school party when she was 11 and again a year later at a teenagers' party. When she was 14, she wrote, she was raped by two men in Arnhem's Elderveld district.[4] She was too ashamed to tell her family about the rapes; they learned about them after discovering farewell letters she had written, and she was never able to bring herself to make a police report.[6]

In March 2019, Pothoven told the Dutch edition of Vice that she wrote her autobiography during her hospitalisations (during some of which she was in civil commitment). She said that she "spent two to three months in the isolation cell every evening, night and morning", being forced to wear a paper dress so she would not be able to hang herself with it, and under constant camera surveillance. Pothoven said that her autobiography started out as a diary and that she eventually published it to break social stigma surrounding mental health. Prior to her death, Pothoven's book led to questions from politician Lisa Westerveld in the Dutch House of Representatives about psychiatric youthcare. Pothoven said of her own civil commitment and being forced to go to court because of it: "[I]f you are in danger of being admitted, the juvenile court will decide on that. As a young person you also have a lawyer who represents your interests. The sessions in the courtroom made a huge impression on me. I sat there as if I were a criminal, while I have never stolen a candy. As far as I am concerned, depressed youngsters should not go to court."[8]

In April 2019, a month before she died, Pothoven wrote a guest article and poem for the website of vocational university Hogeschool Leiden to bring attention to youth mental health care. Pothoven wrote she suffered from complex post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia, depression, obsessive–compulsive disorder, a personality disorder, self-harm and psychosis, but that PTSD as a result of sexual violence was "the real problem". She wrote that her therapies had been mainly focused on symptomatic treatment, for example her anorexia, depression and self-harm, but not on the underlying problem, her PTSD. She pleaded for better psychiatric help for youth and stated that the waiting lists for treatment programs were "bizarre" and should be reduced.[9][10]

Death and media reactions

In May 2019, Pothoven stopped eating and drinking. She had previously been put into an induced coma in 2018 so doctors could feed her through a feeding tube, but Pothoven's family decided to respect her decision in 2019, and provide only palliative care.[11][5] On 30 May 2019 Pothoven made a final Instagram post in which she said: "After years of battling and fighting, I am drained. I have quit eating and drinking for a while now, and after many discussions and evaluations, it was decided to let me go because my suffering is unbearable."[3][5][12][13] On 2 June 2019 Pothoven's sister confirmed her death at the age of 17. Pothoven spent her last days in a hospital bed in her family's living room while saying goodbye to her friends and family.[14]

Many news outlets outside the Netherlands initially reported her death as an assisted suicide under the Dutch euthanasia law.[5][7][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20] Some reported that she was given a lethal injection.[21] Reactions condemning assisted suicide included a tweet by Pope Francis.[14][22][23]

Reporters from several countries sought out Pothoven's family days after her death. The family responded in the Dutch media about their regrets that it has been suggested in foreign media that their daughter died from active euthanasia and said they "hope that her story serves a higher purpose and that help provided to vulnerable young people with psychological problems in the Netherlands will be improved. Noa pleaded for an institution where young people like herself can go for both the psychological and physical help they need."[24] Some media published corrections to their initial accounts.[6][7][25]


See also


  1. ^ Pim Roelofs (23 March 2019) [22 March 2019]. "Noa wint prijzen met boek over depressies en anorexia" . De Gelderlander (in Dutch). Archived from the original on June 5, 2019.
  2. ^ "Uitreiking van de publieksprijs en vakjuryprijzen BoekGoud 2018" (in Dutch). Boukgoed. March 22, 2019. Archived from the original on June 5, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Henk van Gelder (June 3, 2019) [June 2, 2019]. "Noa is 17 jaar geworden: 'Ik word losgelaten omdat mijn lijden ondraaglijk is'" . De Gelderlander (in Dutch). Archived from the original on June 6, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Paul Bolwerk (December 1, 2018). "Noa (16) uit Arnhem is nu al klaar met haar verwoeste leven" . De Gelderlander (with video) (in Dutch). Archived from the original on June 5, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d "Why Dutch teenager Noa's tragic death was misunderstood" . BBC News. June 6, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Isaac Stanley-Becker (June 5, 2019). "Anguished Dutch teen who was raped dies after euthanasia request" . The Washington Post – via San Francisco Chronicle.
  7. ^ a b c Janene Pieters (June 5, 2019). "Global media misreports Dutch teen author's death as 'legal euthanasia'" . NL Times.
  8. ^ "Noa Pothoven is klaar met het leven, maar weet toch anderen te inspireren" . Vice (in Dutch). March 22, 2019. Archived from the original on June 5, 2019.
  9. ^ "Lezersblog Noa, 17 jaar" . Hogeschool Leiden (in Dutch). April 3, 2019. Archived from the original on June 6, 2019.
  10. ^ "Blog van Noa Pothoven, 17 jaar" (PDF). Hogeschool Leiden (in Dutch). April 3, 2019.
  11. ^ Romy van der Poel (June 6, 2019). "Waarom werd de dood van een Arnhems meisje wereldnieuws?" . NRC (in Dutch). Archived from the original on June 7, 2019.
  12. ^ Erandi Godinez (June 4, 2019). "Noa (17) wilde niet meer leven: 'Het is op'" . Libelle (in Dutch). Archived from the original on June 6, 2019.
  13. ^ a b Senay Boztas (June 5, 2019). "Award-winning teen writer Noa Pothoven chooses to die due to 'unbearable suffering'" . Dutch News. Archived from the original on June 5, 2019.
  14. ^ a b c "Waarom het overlijden van de 17-jarige Noa uit Arnhem wereldnieuws is" (in Dutch). NOS. June 5, 2019. Archived from the original on June 5, 2019.
  15. ^ Shannon Bakker (June 5, 2019). "NUcheckt: Dood Nederlands meisje werd onterecht euthanasie genoemd" . NU (in Dutch). Archived from the original on June 5, 2019.
  16. ^ Jon Henley (June 5, 2019). "Dutch girl was not 'legally euthanised' and died at home" . The Guardian. Archived from the original on June 5, 2019.
  17. ^ "Media misreport Dutch teen Noa Pothoven's death as euthanasia" . Deutsche Welle. June 5, 2019. Archived from the original on June 5, 2019.
  18. ^ Odero Charles (June 5, 2019). "Court allows teenager who was raped by two men to legally end her life" . Standard Digital. Kenya. Archived from the original on June 5, 2019. Noa approached a euthanasia clinic in December and was granted euthanasia because her case met all the conditions required by law since the practice was legalised in the Netherlands in 2002.
  19. ^ "সরকারি তত্ত্বাবধানে নয়, বাড়িতেই মৃত্যু নোয়ার" . Anandabazar Patrika. India. 5 June 2019. Archived from the original on 17 June 2019. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  20. ^ "শৈশবে ধর্ষণের মানসিক যন্ত্রণা সহ্য করতে না পেরে আত্মহত্যার পথ বেছে নিলেন যুবতী" . News18 Bangla. India. 5 June 2019. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  21. ^ "A 17-year-old Dutch rape victim died Sunday after seeking assisted death a year earlier" . National Post. June 5, 2019. Archived from the original on June 6, 2019. Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  22. ^ "Paus tweet na dood Arnhemse Noa (17): 'Euthanasie kent alleen verliezers'" . De Telegraaf (in Dutch). June 5, 2019. Archived from the original on June 5, 2019. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  23. ^ Robert Gearty (June 5, 2019). "Dutch rape victim, 17, dies after euthanasia request" . Fox News Channel. Archived from the original on June 5, 2019.
  24. ^ Henk van Gelder; Paul Bolwerk (June 5, 2019). "Noa's (17) zelfgekozen dood is wereldnieuws geworden, haar familie wil radiostilte" . Algemeen Dagblad (in Dutch). Archived from the original on June 6, 2019.
  25. ^ Yuto Nakashima (June 5, 2019). "Update: Dutch girl Noa Pothoven (17) who was raped as a child was NOT euthanized" . Noble Nashville.

Categories: 2001 births | 2019 suicides | 2019 in women's history | People from Arnhem | Mental health activists | 2019 deaths

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