She Was 29. And Doctors Helped Her Die. Plus. . .

The Pope’s F-bomb. De Niro’s outburst. Tragedy in Rafah. And much more.

On today’s Front Page from The Free Press: Pope Francis drops an F-bomb, Biden sends Robert De Niro to the Trump trial, evidence that DEI eclipses teaching at Columbia, Richard Dreyfuss melts down (and his son sees the funny side), and much more. 

But first, our lead story. 

Last month we published Free Press reporter Rupa Subramanya’s profile of Zoraya ter Beek, a 28-year-old Dutch woman awaiting final approval for euthanasia. Zoraya had no terminal cancer diagnosis, no painful degenerative condition, no serious physical ailments at all. But Zoraya said she was hobbled by her depression, autism, and a personality disorder. She was tired of living and wanted to end her life, she told Rupa. “I was always very clear that if it doesn’t get better, I can’t do this anymore,” she told Rupa, whose piece was picked up across the world. 

Last week, Zoraya got her wish. She died by suicide with the help of a doctor. Here’s Rupa on the death of Zoraya ter Beek: 

Even as a child, Zoraya ter Beek had a persistent wish to die. Growing up in the quaint Dutch town of Oldenzaal, she never felt as if she fit in. At the age of 21, she was diagnosed with autism; a year later, she started wearing a “Do Not Resuscitate” tag around her neck. Last Wednesday, her wish was finally granted: after a three-year wait, Zoraya ended her life through physician-assisted suicide. She had just turned 29.

“For me, autism is the major hiccup in my life. That bothers me the most,” Zoraya told me. As a child she was bullied a lot at school. She took to dressing as a goth to make herself seem scarier. 

“The whole black look looked right, because that is how I felt on the inside,” she said.

Zoraya’s sense of humor could be dark. She struggled with mental illness: depression, anxiety, and an unspecified personality disorder. But during our conversations—which took place over the course of a month, on the phone and on WhatsApp—she came across as an intelligent, articulate, and confident young woman.

I told Zoraya more than once that I understood her suffering, but hoped she wouldn’t go through with her decision to kill herself. It was hard to hear the news that she had died—that the society in which she lived had given up on a young person who had so much to live for and so many years ahead. Read on for the full story of how doctors helped a young, mentally ill woman kill herself. 

  1. Harvard will refrain from issuing statements on “public matters that do not directly affect the university’s core function.” It remains to be seen how tightly that is defined, but the architects of the new policy say it is not as strict as the institutional neutrality approach preferred by the University of Chicago. Noah Feldman, who co-chaired the working group that proposed the policy, said: “Our report argues that the university is fundamentally committed to a non-neutral set of values specifically, getting to the truth by experiment, open inquiry, and debate.” (The Harvard Crimson)
    Read Bill Ackman’s January essay for The Free Press: “How to Fix Harvard.” 

  2. Mexicans head to the polls next month and the stakes couldn’t be higher, argues Enrique Krauze. AMLO cannot run for reelection after his six-year term, but if his chosen successor wins, it could be the start of de facto one-party rule south of the border. (Persuasion

  3. A majority of Americans are fed up with the presidential election. A full 62 percent say they are already “worn out” by coverage of the race. Even so, slightly more Americans say they are paying closer attention this time around than at the same point in the cycle four years ago. Could that be because they don’t have a global pandemic to distract them? (Pew

  4. The U.S. pier constructed to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza has broken apart. The structure was announced by Biden during the State of the Union in March, cost $320 million, was installed on May 16, and drifted into the sea a week later. (CNN)

  5. Last October, California governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a $25 minimum wage for healthcare workers due to come into effect on June 1. Now, Newsom and California Democrats are walking back the proposal. Why? Because the new regulation would lead to higher healthcare costs—with the California taxpayer picking up the tab, exactly what the measure’s opponents warned would happen. (WSJ)

  6. “What is ‘MAGA communism’?” asks The Guardian in a profile of the strange pro-Hamas, anti-Israel, sometimes far-right influencers who have gained traction since October 7. Hey, Guardian, we think we know the answer. Clue: it starts with an A and ends with a semitism. (The Guardian

  7. Speaking of which, the great Natan Sharansky writes that a recent letter signed by 500 Jews at Columbia, in which the students said they would not be silenced by violent threats and refused to disavow their Zionism, was “quietly distributed and far less aggressive than some of the other events that overshadowed it.” It also “may prove to be the turning point in the struggle for American Jewry’s future.” (Tablet)

  8. The overzealous FDA is stopping you from buying the best sunscreens, argues economist Alex Tabarrok. In the U.S., SPF creams are regulated as drugs, whereas in Europe they are regulated as cosmetics, meaning they can include a wider range of ingredients. Ah yes, those famously laissez-faire European regulators playing fast and loose with the rules. (Meanwhile, The New York Times is worried about sunscreen “misinformation.”) (MSNBC)

  9. Visitors who break the rules at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona might be inviting a curse onto themselves. In the past 50 years, many of them have written to the park to apologize for stealing the region’s iconic fossilized relics, after experiencing “ruined relationships, financial disasters, and persistent health issues.” The park’s museum displays these “conscience letters”—perhaps to terrify tourists into leaving nature be. (Letters of Note)

  10. “Brown and other boring colors don’t interest him.” Laurent Schwarz, a toddler from Bavaria, is selling his paintings for up to $7,000—to sellers as far away as the Bahamas. And in August, a New York gallery will put on a private viewing of his “big, bold, and colorful abstracts.” Modern artists are constantly pushing against the opinion that “my kid could paint that”—but could your kid have painted Schwarz’s The Dinosaur? (The Times)

→ De Niro’s walk-on part in the Trump trial: With Democrats in “full freak-out” mode about the presidential election, is the Biden campaign starting to panic? That’s one explanation for their decision to send a group of Biden surrogates, including Robert De Niro, to give a press conference outside the courthouse Tuesday. Until now, the Biden campaign had largely stuck to a policy of not commenting on courtroom proceedings for fear of being seen to politicize the trial. That was always a bit of a fiction, given that the trial is obviously political. (District Attorney Alvin Bragg campaigned on being the candidate best able to take on the former president.) 

It was certainly a strange choice to drop the facade during closing arguments, with jury deliberations expected to begin sometime this week. And it was stranger still to do so by wheeling out noted judicial expert. . . De Niro? He’s not known for his insight into grave constitutional matters—but for expressing his desire to punch Trump in the face

When De Niro stepped up to the mic, he offered exactly the considered words the moment demanded. Just kidding! He compared Trump to the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center. “The Twin Towers fell just over here, just over there,” he said. “This part of the city was like a ghost town, but we vowed we would not allow terrorists to change our way of life. . . I love this city. I don’t want to destroy it. Donald Trump wants to destroy not only the city but the country, and eventually he can destroy the world.”

If this is the Biden campaign strategy, then strap in; the next few months will definitely include Mark Ruffalo screaming bloody murder at a rally. 

 → Rafah tragedy did not cross red line, say U.S. officials: The images and footage out of Rafah are horrific. And Israel has faced widespread condemnation for the air strike that killed two Hamas leaders, but also appears to have started a fire that led to civilian casualties. But Biden officials said the incident, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “tragic mishap,” did not cross a red line that would lead to a change in U.S. policy toward Israel, administration officials said Tuesday. The IDF is investigating the tragedy but says it suspects the blaze, which spread to a housing complex for displaced civilians, was started by munitions stored nearby. An initial IDF investigation had found that the two missiles dropped by Israeli jets would not have been enough to start the blaze, they said.

→ DEI as important as research at Columbia: Last week I revealed how Yale’s department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry tells hiring faculty to put “DEI at the center of every decision,” and how every job advertised by the department links to a DEI “rubric” that tests candidates’ “commitment to promoting DEI.” 

Now I’ve discovered that Columbia is using an “evaluation tool”—strikingly similar to the Yale rubric—that mandates hiring committees assign more weight to DEI than teaching, and to give DEI equal weight to research. 

The tool, designed by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, tells faculty to give each candidate up to 50 points, with DEI comprising 15 of those points—the same amount as their research. An additional ten points each are awarded in the areas of teaching and service. 

Within the DEI bracket, job candidates can score up to five points in each of the three categories if they fulfill the following requirements:

  • Knowledge and understanding: Declare that DEI is a “core value that every faculty and staff member should actively contribute to advancing.”

  • Track record: Attest that they have “served as a leader in a student or professional organization that supports underrepresented individuals.” 

  • Plans: Confirm they want to advance DEI “at Columbia and within their field, through their research, teaching, and service.” 

In other words, if Columbia search committees follow the advice of their administrators, they would rank an average researcher with strong DEI credentials more highly than an outstanding researcher who expresses skepticism about, say, segregated graduations.

(Meanwhile, the worst thing any scholar or scientist could do for their job prospects is to focus on diversity of thought in their mandatory DEI statement. Don’t even think about using the word color-blind. If that describes your approach to diversity—as it does for Columbia graduate and Free Press contributor Coleman Hughes, for example—keep it to yourself.)

If the “tentifada” protesters who took over Columbia weren’t enough to put prospective students off the Ivy League college, sliding academic standards might just be. Perhaps one day Columbia will again be a serious institution. —John Sailer 

The Pope was caught saying something less than politically correct recently. But was his F-bomb a slip of the tongue or something more calculated? Mattia Ferraresi, who is the managing editor of Italian newspaper Domani, helps us decipher The Vicar of Christ’s slur.

 → White smoke and mirrors: Pope Francis issued an awkward apology Tuesday for using the term faggotry, but his apparent verbal slip is fueling speculation about his true beliefs toward homosexuality. 

In a closed-door meeting with Italian bishops on May 20 that was reported on Monday, Francis, 87, warned against the widespread atmosphere of frociaggine—literally faggotry—in the Catholic church, calling on religious leaders not to admit “hysterical queers” in seminaries, even those who are only “semi-oriented.” 

Matteo Bruni, the director of the Vatican press office, insisted that “The Pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and apologizes to those who felt offended by the use of a term. In the church there is room for everyone.”

However, far from a mistake by an elderly pontiff, the incident may well be part of a confusing yet consistent strategy. By signaling in the crudest terms his intention to stick with Catholic doctrine on sexuality, Pope Francis appeases church leaders who were taken aback when he opened up the possibility of blessings for same-sex couples in December. The doctrinal declaration Fiducia Supplicans sparked an irate reaction, especially from bishops in Africa, where the church is growing fastest. At the time, 11 African bishops issued a statement saying that blessing homosexual unions “would be in direct contradiction to the cultural ethos of African communities.”

One Italian bishop who attended the Vatican meeting on May 20 reportedly asked Pope Francis how to reconcile his warning against gays in the church and his new Fiducia Supplicans policy. “It’s just a blessing of not even twenty seconds that you don’t deny anyone,” the Pope replied, according to the Italian newspaper Il Foglio, downplaying its significance. 

It’s not the first time Pope Francis has engaged in smoke and mirrors to mask his true position. He once told Chilean bishops not to give Communion to pro-choice politicians, but afterward he said he had never refused to give Communion to anyone and even told Biden he was fine with him receiving it. He also reaffirmed the church should deny Communion to remarried people, but then signed an apostolic exhortation—Amoris Laetitia—that opened the door to this practice. And he suggested laymen may carry some duties reserved to priests, then walked the idea back.

Faggotry is hardly a term that accidentally slips off the tongue, especially from someone who was hailed a hero by an LGBTQ+ journal. It suggests that Francis is engaging in the contradictory art of provoking and retracting, to make his real position elusive. The incident now pushes the pendulum away from gay rights, until the next time he’s caught making an off-the-cuff remark. —Mattia Ferraresi

→ It’s okay to laugh: We stand in solidarity with actor, reporter, and funny tweeter Ben Dreyfuss, who finds himself in that dreadful position of not only having a joke misinterpreted but willfully so. Allow me to explain. You may have seen some headlines about the actor Richard Dreyfuss, Ben’s father, offending the audience with various hot takes on hot button issues at a Jaws event over the weekend. As all children of Boomers could probably guess, topics ranged from Barbara Walters to gender confirmation surgery for trans teens. The venue apologized for any offense caused by Dreyfuss’s remarks. A media storm ensued. Ben then stepped into that storm, reacting to the news. 

Tweet number one: 


Tweet number two: 

Also funny! Except the tabloid press chose to believe he was being serious. “In an earlier tweet, Ben referred to the ‘disgusting outrageous behavior of one of [his] relatives,’ ” wrote the Daily Mail, making it sound as though Ben earnestly thought his dad’s behavior was disgusting and outrageous. The New York Post said Ben had “slammed” his dad’s “rant.” None of this is true. 

Add the torrent of commenters on Twitter calling on Ben to issue an earnest denunciation of his own father, and you have, in miniature, a case study in why everything online sucks. Instead of firing off a few tweets and getting on with his life—a right guaranteed by one of the amendments, I’m sure—Ben must explain himself at greater length. And so yesterday, he did exactly that in this (quite graceful) post on his Substack. It’s not the biggest problem facing the world right now, but boy, would the internet be better if it weren’t dominated by bad-faith misreadings of the words we post there.

Dalton recommends Leonard Cohen’s 1977 album ‘Death of a Ladies’ Man’: Produced under the tyranny of Phil Spector, it’s Cohen's most critically reviled album. Younger generations like me, however, have given it a newer, fairer assessment. Personal favorites include “Iodine,” “Memories,” and the title track. I usually listen to the record while baking a cake and drinking champagne. 

With a UK election on the horizon, Jack recommends The Thick of It: Along with Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, it completes the British troika of deadly accurate, hilarious political satire.

Send your recommendations for music, TV, books, cocktails, desserts, movies, stores, heck, anything, to

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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