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Dutch clinic sees jump in foreign euthanasia requests after teen's death

  • Jan Hennop

    Agence France-Presse

The Hague, Netherlands   /   Sat, June 8, 2019   /   02:42 pm
Dutch clinic sees jump in foreign euthanasia requests after teen's death

The Netherlands' only euthanasia clinic says it has received a surge in calls from overseas from people who want to end their lives, after a flurry of incorrect reports that it had helped a troubled teenager to die.

Since the wrongly reported story about 17-year-old Noa Pothoven went viral, the Levenseindekliniek (End-of-life clinic) in The Hague said it had received at least 25 foreign requests for help.

Pothoven -- who published a book about her mental struggles following a childhood rape -- was in fact not euthanised, but died on Sunday after refusing to eat and drink, her family and the government have said.

Steven Pleiter, the Levenseindekliniek managing director said it "was not aiming for euthanasia tourist traffic" to the Netherlands.

"That's absolutely not what we are aiming for and why we were set up," he told AFP in an interview. 

"A person cannot just come to the Netherlands to be euthanised. It's not like you arrive on Monday and you will have a euthanasia on Friday."

The Netherlands is one of a handful of countries where euthanasia is legal and by law all inhabitants older than 12 are entitled to ask for it -- but have to first fulfil a strict set of criteria.

- 'End their lives in a decent manner' -

Pleiter said the Levenseindekliniek was not involved in Pothoven's death, but declined to comment on Pothoven's claim in a newspaper interview in December that she had approached it to seek euthanasia or assisted suicide, but had been turned down because she was too young.

"I feel very sorry for Noa Pothoven, who found that she could not live any longer and could not have the help that she was looking for and that she had to end her life," Pleiter said.

"Noa decided to end her life by stopping to eat and drink. The Levenseindekliniek was not involved in providing euthanasia to Noa," he said.

"But that's exactly what drives us to help as many people as we can. We try to help people end their lives in a decent manner," he said.

Under Dutch laws legalising euthanasia in 2002, children up to 16 need the permission of their parents and guardians, while parents must be involved in the process for children aged 16 and 17. From 18, any Dutch citizen may ask for assisted suicide. 

In all cases, the patient must have "unbearable and endless suffering" and adhere to a strict set of conditions as set out by Dutch law.

However, the false reports about Pothoven sparked an international reaction -- with even Pope Francis tweeting on the subject of euthanasia and assisted suicide -- and turned the spotlight on the Levenseindekliniek.

"Usually we get one or two requests per week from abroad about euthanasia," the Levenseindekliniek spokeswoman Elke Swart told AFP. "Yesterday (Thursday) there were 25." 

- 'Complex process' -

Opening its doors in 2012 and based out of a stately home in a leafy street, the Levenseindekliniek is the only Dutch institution that deals with euthanasia.

It says it does not carry out euthanasia from its premises, but instead relies on a network of 140 doctors and nurses around the Netherlands who are qualified and willing to carry it out.

Reaching the eventual decision to be euthanised "a complex process" involving exhaustive interviews with a potential patient and a physician, scanning of medical records and making sure the process complies to Dutch law.

"In some situations that's three interviews, in other situations that's 10 or 15," said Pleiter.

Over the past seven years, the Levenseindekliniek has received between 12,000 to 13,000 requests for euthanasia, of which around 3,500 have been granted.

It has never euthanised any children, the youngest being a patient of 18 who complied with the strict Dutch regulations on euthanasia.

"It is very rare. It is very seldom that a younger person is euthanised," Pleiter said.

"Providing euthanasia to a younger person doesn't feel right. It's very hard to get there and it's a mental conflict," he said.