Correction: Dutch teen killed herself without assistance

Correction: Dutch teen killed herself without assistance June 11, 2019

I erroneously reported in my June 7 post (“Dutch teen lauds mother’s love in allowing her to end life”) that 17-year-old Noa Pothoven recently committed suicide “with the legally sanctioned assistance of a physician at an ‘end-of-life’ clinic.”

My thanks to the reader who pointed out the mistake so I could correct it.

correction mistake dutch suicide
Graffiti on a train car in a railroad yard. (Revise_D, Flikr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

In fact, as the online news site Politico reported in an article titled “The euthanasia that wasn’t,” many news reports following Pothoven’s sad death, including mine, incorrectly stated she received legal assistance at a euthanasia clinic in her final act. The article states:

“Noah Pothoven, a sufferer of anorexia and other mental illnesses, had previously sought euthanasia at a clinic without telling her parents — but she had been refused.”

The Politico piece adds,

“The teenager died at the weekend, several days after she began to refuse all fluids and foods. Her parents and doctors ultimately agreed not to force feed her or compel her into treatment against her will.”

She died in a hospital bed set up in the living room of her family’s’s home in Arnhem, Politico noted.

Pothoven had previously undergone multiple hospitalizations for her mental illnesses, which she blamed on two sexual assaults and a later rape by two men in earlier years, experiences she recounted in her award-winning book, “Winning or Learning.”  She reportedly attempted suicide unsuccessfully several times in recent months.

Information in my earlier post was correct about the existence of legal euthanasia in the Netherlands, even for children as young as 12 in extreme circumstances.

As I reported in my June 7 post, suicide is also either legal or pending in some U.S. entities (Washington, D.C., and the states of California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, New Jersey [starting Aug. 1], Hawaii, Washington, and Montana [under a court ruling]), as well as Canada and Belgium.

Although assisted suicide is allowed by law in the Netherlands, albeit under strict, compassionate laws, the act is widely viewed as controversial in so-called “psychiatric euthanasia” for private mental as opposed to physical pain, or for terminal illness.

“Until about 2010, the controversial practice of psychiatric euthanasia [in the Netherlands] was rare, despite being permitted since the mid-1990s,” according to a long article in The Atlantic magazine. “Most Dutch psychiatrists—like most other doctors and the Dutch public—disapprove of psychiatric euthanasia. Still, there has been a steady increase, with 83 cases in 2017; the per-capita equivalent in the United States would be about 1,600 cases a year. Unlike euthanasia in general, psychiatric euthanasia is predominantly given to women. Most of these cases involve the End of Life Clinic, a network of facilities affiliated with the largest Dutch euthanasia-advocacy organization. These clinics routinely handle euthanasia requests refused by other doctors.”

A critical problem with this kind of assisted suicide, the Atlantic article explains, is that:

“Psychiatric diagnosis is not based on an objective laboratory or imaging test; generally, it is a more subjective assessment based on standard criteria agreed on by professionals in the field. Some doctors reach conclusions with which other doctors might reasonably disagree.”

The mistaken report that Pothoven received legal assistance in her death went viral after she died and was repeated by countless news media globally, including my blog (although I had the information at hand but misread it).

In this business, not double-checking enough is a sin — and publicly correcting errors is the necessary penance.

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