Peter Williams: Fake news is a real thing

Opinion 06/06/2019

There was a lot of anguish on Wednesday when the news stories about 17-year-old Dutch girl Noa Pothaven began to circulate.

It was widely reported that she had died by euthanasia or had been legally euthanised, as is allowed under Dutch law. This was after she had suffered sexual abuse as a child and been raped as a 14-year-old. Consequently, she had suffered severe mental anguish and wanted to die.

Her reported death by euthanasia was seized upon by opponents of David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill, which is at the front of the New Zealand Parliament right now, as an example of someone who was not terminally ill and who was far too young to die with the assistance of a medical professional.

But it turns out this isn’t the case at all.

Yes, the young woman has died. Yes, she had severe mental trauma. But she was not euthanised. She was not assisted to die.

She asked for it but was deemed too young. Though, she was still reported as having died in a “Dutch end of life clinic.”

What appears to have happened to this sad young woman is that she decided to stop eating and drinking and starved herself to death.

In the end her parents and doctors acceded to her wishes and did not force feed her. She died at her parents home. She starved herself to death.

She was not assisted to do so.

So in this age of 24-hour news cycles and the need for stories which are designed to make a political impact, be very aware of unverified stories supplied by small and often non-reputable news agencies.

This one came from something called Central European News and was given considerable prominence all over the world for a day. That was until better resourced, and you could say, more cynical and questioning reporters, began to check the facts and found the original story was just not true.

If you’ll excuse the oxymoron, fake news is a real thing.

Peter Williams is host of Magic Talk Mornings, 9am - midday weekdays.

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