As human beings, we all experience suffering at one point in another in our lives. It is perhaps this one, universal emotion that ultimately joins us as a species. Most of us are emotionally equipped to experience and then heal from some of the most traumatic things imaginable. But some of us, despite everything, just aren’t capable.
It is not to say that these people are weaker than the rest of us. Indeed, it takes great strength to bear the burdens that Noa Pothoven bore in her short, painful life. But one cannot fight forever, one cannot suffer forever, and Noa was hitting the point of no return…
“After years of battling and fighting, I am drained.” This was the statement that 17-year-old Noah Pothoven made just before her death. When she died, Noa was indeed drained, not simply of emotion and the will to leave, but due to the longtime battle with Anorexia that had caused her even more pain.
End of Life
It was a Sunday when Noa Pothoven finally refused any further food from her physicians. She had also refused any further medical care. She died on an “end-of-life clinic” bed in her living room in her home in the Netherlands. She had suffered long enough and had chosen to end her own life but the process of being allowed to do so was hardly an easy one…
Noa’s parents had been understandably against the idea of their daughter’s self-imposed suicide for a very long time. Yet, circumstances had obviously changed in the months and weeks leading up to that fateful day. Many questions came along with Noa’s ultimate decision, the most important of which may be, why would a 17-year-old girl want to end her own life?
The reasons for Noa’s suicide had to do with the multiple abuses she suffered as a young girl. She had been attacked no less than three times as a child. Twice when she attended children’s parties at ages 11 and 12, then once when she was 14. The first two were molestations, the third was, by all accounts, much more violent and involved two men…
Living With Secrets
For years, Noa lived with the secret of these horrific events. She never revealed the traumatic abuse or the pain she was suffering simply because she felt ashamed that she had allowed these things to happen to her. In that regard, she was like many who have suffered such abuses. That all changed in the last year.
Noa had finally gained the strength to report the incidents to the police. Her hope was that the men who did that to her in the street at 14 would one day be arrested. Sadly, she would not live to see that. Instead, she ended up taking her own life because she could no longer deal with the pain. Anorexia and depression had finally taken their toll on the girl…
Family and Friends
In her final days, Noa spent time with her friends and family. She wanted to make sure that she got the chance to say goodbye. Before then though, she wanted the world to know why she had made this controversial decision. It wasn’t just the abuse and the lingering pain she felt, it went deeper than that.
Noa posted a message on Instagram revealing her decision to die mere hours before it finally happened. “I deliberated for quite a while whether or not I should share this, but decided to do it anyway,” she wrote. “Maybe this comes as a surprise to some, given my posts about hospitalization, but my plan has been there for a long time and is not impulsive…” She had thought about it…
Noa’s explanation was simple. She had battled mental anguish for most of her life and after years of that, she was just drained. She had already quit eating and drinking, which meant she was already well on her way to suicide, to begin with. Her parents tried to coerce her, doctors tried to help her, but it was all for naught.
Before that, Noa had been admitted to the hospital in critical condition. Her anorexia, unbeknownst to her parents, had left her vital organs on the very brink of failure. At that time, she was placed in a medically-induced coma and fed through tubes in order to save her life. Unfortunately, this life-saving methodology repaired only her body, not her spirit…
When she awoke to find that she was being force-fed through a tube to keep her alive, Noa sunk even further into despair. She considered the experience “humiliating” and “degrading” and expressed that it had done nothing but drive her towards being free from the painful life she was leading.
The Right to Die
The truth of the matter was that, in order to truly save her, Noa’s parents would have to learn to let her go. Through many tears and much discussion, they came to the conclusion that Noa had every right to die as she did to live. With no other options, they consented to let her end her own life…
Instead of round-the-clock care in an intensive care unit, Noa was provided with palliative care in a hospital bed in her own living room. She was on hospice, essentially, in what Holland considers “Passive Euthanasia.” This is essentially defined as doctors withholding treatment for life-threatening conditions.
This is not to be confused with the assisted suicides of famous “suicide doctor” Jack Kevorkian. The doctors weren’t administering drugs to end her life, they were just not helping to save it. The distinction may seem immaterial to some but not to Noa, and oddly enough, not in the eyes of Dutch law…
You see, under Dutch law, doctors can agree to euthanasia for a child as young as 12. This is provided that there is sufficient suffering, including psychiatric illness, that is described as unbearable. This is also provided that there is no end to that suffering in sight. This was precisely Noa’s case.
Love is Letting Go
In her Instagram post, Noa absolved the doctors and her family of their guilt. She also asked her friends not to convince her to stop. She said that even while she was alive, she felt as if she were merely surviving to no purpose. “I breathe, but I no longer live…Love is letting go, in this case,” she wrote. What else could her parents do?
Noa explained that her mother had always been there for her and that she had done all of this on their own as a way of not hurting them or involving them. She’d even contacted a Life End Clinic in The Hague without discussing it with any of her loved ones. At the time she was 16, however, and they considered her too young.
Even though she is gone, Noa has left a legacy for those who still suffer as she did. She even wrote an award-winning autobiography called “Winning or Learning” which detailed her suicide attempts and her struggles with mental health, guilt, shame, and anorexia. She wanted the book to help move the country towards treatment for affected children like herself…
Dutch minister Lisa Westerveld, spoke out about Noa. She had visited the 17-year-old before she died and described her as “incredibly strong and very open. I will never forget her…” She also promised that Holland will continue her struggle and continue to help those in need even if they can’t help themselves.
Suicide affects thousands of people the world over. It is something that many people suffer from in secret and can take lives just as quickly as violent crime. If you or someone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts or tendencies, remember, there are options out there and treatment available. For Noa, the end was the solution, but that might not be the case for you.