Catholic Hospitals in Belgium to Offer Euthanasia


Belgian psychiatric hospitals run by the Brothers of Charity have decided to allow doctors to kill patients who request euthanasia. The religious order cares for a large proportion of the country’s psychiatric patients. The surprise decision by the board controlling the institutions of the Brothers of Charity removes one of the last substantial barriers to increasing the number of euthanasia cases for non-terminally-ill psychiatric patients in Belgium.


The Brothers of Charity, whose hospitals care for about 5,000 patients in Belgium, announced that “we respect the freedom of doctors to decide whether or not to perform euthanasia and freedom of other caregivers to choose whether or not to participate.” The board of the hospitals issued a statement saying that “we take extreme caution on requests of patients for euthanasia,” but also take “the unbearable and hopeless suffering” seriously as well. The board said it wants “to protect lives and ensure that euthanasia is performed only if there is no more possibility to provide a reasonable perspective to treat the patient.”


Brother René Stockman, the international leader of the Brothers of Charity (who is himself a Belgian), said from Rome that the decision of the Belgian institutions was at odds with the policy of the order. “We deplore this new vision,” he said. Brother René has been one of the leading opponents of euthanasia in recent years. He pointed out that there are very few Brothers directly involved in the running of the hospitals.


Euthanasia for psychiatric patients has already happened dozens of times in Belgium. But from now on it will probably be easier for people suffering from schizophrenia, personality disorders, depression, autism, or loneliness to access it. In fact, it will be hard to find an institution in Belgium where euthanasia is not being offered as an option.


Nursing homes and hospitals opposing euthanasia have been under even more pressure after a court fined a Catholic nursing home a total of €6,000 last year for blocking a resident from accessing euthanasia.


Brother Stockman said, however, that this was not an open and shut case. “I am confident that we have the right to refuse euthanasia,” he told De Morgen. “We want to take seriously the needs of the patients, but the inviolability of life is for us an absolute. We cannot accept that euthanasia is carried out within the walls of our institutions.”


The chairman of the board, Raf De Rycke, an economist who has worked with the Brothers of Charity for years, denied that the ethos of their hospitals had changed. “It is not that we used to be against euthanasia and now suddenly are for it,” he told De Morgen. “This is consistent with our existing criteria. We are making both possible routes for our patients: both a pro-life perspective and euthanasia.” Although this seems odd for a Catholic group, especially when the Pope has been outspoken in denouncing euthanasia, De Rycke believes that the inspiration of the Belgian Brothers of Charity fundamentally remains the same. “We start from the same basic values: the inviolability of life is an important foundation, but for us it is not absolute. This is where we are on a different wavelength from Rome.”

CWN. May 1. MercatorNet. April 28.

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