Real Life

Real life: Why 17-year-old author Noa Pothoven worked tirelessly to end her own life

I breathe but no longer live.

By As told to Take 5
Noa Pothoven sat alone in her bedroom in Arnham, the Netherlands, slowly typing on her phone.
I will get straight to the point: within a maximum of 10 days I will die, she posted on Instagram.
Noa, 17, was no stranger to suffering.
At 11 years-old, she was sexually abused at a friend's birthday party.
Terrified and confused, she kept it a secret.
It happened again when she was 12 and then, two years later, she was was raped by two men when she was walking home.
Still, she didn't tell a soul.
But the anguish bubbling inside her took its toll and Noa developed depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia.
She stayed in mental health facilities and had regular sessions with counsellors.
When Noa was 14 years old, she started documenting her journey.
She even mustered the courage to write about the sexual attacks and how they impacted her life.
I relive the fear, that pain every day, she wrote in her journal.
Always scared, always on my guard. And to this day my body still feels dirty.
My house has been broken into, my body, that can never be undone.
Noa suffered depression, PTSD, and anorexia. (Image credit: Noa Pothoven Facebook)
It later became an autobiography about her life called Winners and Learning.
The material was a lot for her parents, Lisette and Frans, to take in.
Although they'd always known Noa had struggled with her mental health, they'd never realised the crippling anguish she'd always internalised.
Over the years, Noa frequented institutions and specialist centres in the hopes that she'd eventually see past her demons.
She had to wear a dress made of untearable fabric to prevent her from taking her own life.
As Noa's mental health sprialled, so too did her physical health.
Her anorexia was out of control. She was admitted to hospital severely underweight and in critical condition.
Her organs were so close to failing that doctors put her into an induced coma and fed her through a tube.
Lisette and Frans were desperate.
"We, her parents, want her to choose the path of life. Noa really doesn't want to die at all. She only longs for peace," said Lisette sadly.
But by 16, the struggle had become too much for Noa.
Without her parent's knowledge, she contacted a legal 'end of life' clinic.
Noa with her book. (Image credit: Winnen of Leren Instagram)
In the Netherlands, children as young as 12 can be euthanised if their suffering is deemed to be unbearable with no end in sight.
At 16 years or younger, the law demands parental consent, along with doctors agreeing that their suffering is too much.
It wasn't until Lisette discovered a plastic envelope in Noa's room that she realised that Noa wanted to end her life.
Inside were farewell letters to her parents, friends and acquaintances.
"I was in shock," Lisette told a local Dutch newspaper. "Noa is sweet, beautiful, smart, social and always cheerful. How is it possible that she wants to die?"
Her parents refused to give consent for Noa ending her life, hoping that one of the many physchological treatments she received would eventually work.
They wanted their daughter's brain to fully mature before she made such a drastic decision.
It's broken me because I can't wait that long, Noa wrote in her journal.
A post from Noa's facebook page. She loved animals. (Image credit: Noa Pothoven Facebook)
In June 2019, after exhausting all treatment options and making multiple attempts to end her life on her own, Noa stopped eating and drinking.
The 'end of life' clinic that Noa had reached out to released a statement saying that their physicians had concluded that her suffering was unending and overbearing.
They agreed that she could stop eating and drinking, and medics wouldn't provide her with basic hydration and nourishment, as per her wishes.
Eventually, Noa slipped away.
This is known as passive euthanasia. 
At first, reports of Noa's death were misleading and implied that Noa was actively euthanised.
The Royal Dutch Medical Association (RDMA) released a statement saying "The RDMA feels the urge to correct the misreporting, because it gives a wrong impression of Dutch law and practice. Under Dutch law, euthanisia is defined as the active termination of life, by a physician, at a patients voluntary and well-informed request."
Noa's suffering was both emotional and physical. (Image credit: Noa Pothoven Facebook)
In her final post on Instagram, translated from Dutch, Noa wrote;
Maybe this comes as a surprise to some, given my posts about hospitalisation, but my plan has been there for a long time and is not impulsive.
I will get straight to the point: within a maximum of 10 days I will die. 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.

What are the laws?

Euthanasia is the deliberate, intentional act of one person to end the life of another person. Assisted suicide is where a person intentionally kills themselves with the help of another person.
The final act ending a life is not inflicted by the friend, relative or doctor, but by the person themselves.
Euthanasia is illegal in most Australian states and territories.
If it's carried out, it may result in a person being charged with murder, manslaughter or assisting suicide.
Voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is legal in some countries and states around the world but each country varies from the level of suffering to the condition that the person suffers from.
In November 2017, the Victorian Legislative Assembly passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act which legalised voluntary assisted dying by a physician from June 19, 2019 onward.

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