Belgian order defies pope, insists on allowing euthanasia

In this Nov. 25, 2013, file photo, doctors visit a patient at the intensive care unit of Queen Fabiola Children's Hospital in Brussels. An academic study on March 17, 2015, showed that euthanasia cases in northern Belgium have more than doubled over the past half-dozen years to reach 4.6 percent of all deaths. The practice is legal only in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. AP Photo/Yves Logghe, File

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A Belgian religious congregation is defying Pope Francis’ order to stop allowing euthanasia in its psychiatric hospitals, saying that its decision to do so is fully consistent with Catholic doctrine.

In a statement Tuesday (Sept. 12), the Belgian branch of the Brothers of Charity stood by its decision and said negotiations with church officials to resolve the standoff hadn’t yielded results. It said it was open to further dialogue but stressed it merely wanted to explain itself.

In May, the Brothers of Charity announced it would allow doctors to perform euthanasia at its 15 psychiatric hospitals in Belgium, one of only two countries — along with the Netherlands — where doctors are legally allowed to kill people with mental health problems, at their request.

To qualify, people must be in a state of “unbearable suffering,” and euthanasia would only be performed if there were “no reasonable treatment alternatives,” the order said. Requests would be considered with “the greatest caution” and be evaluated by at least three doctors.

The Holy See launched an investigation into the decision, which was made by the group’s lay board of directors, since Catholic Church teaching forbids euthanasia. In August, the Vatican ordered the group to stop offering euthanasia and gave the members one month to comply.

The Belgian order’s administrative headquarters in Rome concurred, saying euthanasia “goes against the basic principles” of the Catholic Church. The order’s superior, Brother Rene Stockman, asked the Belgian religious brothers who were members of the board to write a formal letter declaring their adherence to church doctrine on the need to respect life from conception until natural death. And the Vatican gave him authority to take “necessary legal steps” to resolve the situation and improve the Catholic “identity” of the order’s hospitals.

But in its statement Tuesday, the Belgian branch said it “emphatically” believes that its decision to allow euthanasia is consistent with Catholic doctrine.

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Nicole Winfield


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  • “To qualify, people must be in a state of “unbearable suffering…”

    Yes, it started out the exact same way in the Netherlands. Now, anytime a Dutch hospital needs an extra bed, they euthanize some helpless individual whether that person has consented to it or not. Murdering the elderly, terminally ill, etc. is now the daily norm. There are no qualifications necessary beyond some doctor saying it’s okay.

  • The RCC needs to rebuke this in the strongest way possible. This order and those who are part of this have lost their faith. They are no longer in communion with the church or with God. They have taken it upon themselves to say they are more merciful than God by assisting anyone to take their lives under the auspice of compassion and mercy. Euthanasia is equal to abortion in that it preys on the defenseless believing they are doing a good when in fact it is pure evil.

  • It’s amazing how religious extremists whine about medical policy, yet can’t be bothered to criticize the excesses of capitalism which kills far more than any medical directive.

  • Have you any studies or documents to back up your claim? I think your claim is bullcrap but I’ll wait on your evidence to be sure.

  • I can’t believe that liberals and progressives scream about equality and human rights and support euthanasia, abortion.

  • What is wrong with RNS these days? This is a poorly sourced (actually, NO sources linked), story meant to gin up a right wing pro-life base which is now allowed to believe that a hospital is taking the lives of mentally challenged people without qualms. I can think of about 100 questions about what actually happened, and imagine about 50 ways that, reading through the lines, significant details are missing here. But I’m not a journalist and that is not my job. RNS, quit publishing propaganda pieces as if they are news stories or you will lose all credibility.

  • I don’t think this is a correct description of the facts. Until now the problem is still a (fierce) disagreement between the superior of the Brothers of Charity and the Belgian branch. A dialogue is very difficult between the two parties because the superior chose to take the matter to Vatican instances. The main issue is that the Belgian branch is convinced that although the respect for human life is the fundamental value underpinning all other values it is not an absolute value in the sense that it takes always and in all situations absolute priority over all other values. In the case of euthanasia the other values to be considered are (1) the patient’s autonomy and (2) the care relationship. Autonomy and care are not seen as individualistic but as relational values. In my opinion an in-depth discussion about the Vision Statement of the Belgian branch would be far more productive than threats by the Vatican

  • Unfortunately, some folks treat animals better than people. Apparently, they don’t want to see their pet suffer – people, no problem.

  • Unlike the opinion piece on the East Lansing anti-gay marriage farmers market vendor, this article is by the Associated Press. It appears to quote accurately from Belgian law, the Vatican, and the Catholic order in question. Not to say you should absolutely believe it, but it’s a lot more relatively trustworthy.

  • “Dutch hospital needs an extra bed, they euthanize some helpless individual whether that person has consented to it or not.”

    Except that is not how the Netherlands law works. That is outright 1ying on the subject

    “The law allows medical review board to suspend prosecution of doctors who performed euthanasia when each of the following conditions are fulfilled:

    -the patient’s suffering is unbearable with no prospect of improvement

    -the patient’s request for euthanasia must be voluntary and persist over time (the request cannot be granted when under the influence of others, psychological illness or drugs)

    -the patient must be fully aware of his/her condition, prospects, and options

    -there must be consultation with at least one other independent doctor who needs to confirm the conditions mentioned above

    -the death must be carried out in a medically appropriate fashion by the doctor or patient, and the doctor must be present

    -the patient is at least 12 years old (patients between 12 and 16 years of age require the consent of their parents)

    -The doctor must also report the cause of death to the municipal coroner in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Burial and Cremation Act.

    -A regional review committee assesses whether a case of termination of life on request or assisted suicide complies with the due care criteria. Depending on its findings, the case will either be closed or, if the conditions are not met, brought to the attention of the Public Prosecutor.

    -Finally, the legislation offers an explicit recognition of the validity of a written declaration of will of the patient regarding euthanasia (a “euthanasia directive”). Such declarations can be used when a patient is in a coma or otherwise unable to state if they wish to be euthanized.”

  • Actually it makes perfect sense. Both the anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia stances posit the idea that a person is the chattel property of the state and incapable of making personal intimate decisions as to what goes on in their body. It is an attack on human rights at its most basic form.

    Now if you are under the opinion that you have a right to intervene and control the lives of others to do as your arbitrary whims, the very definition of opposing human rights, then you attack abortion and euthanasia.

    But Jeff’s representation of euthanasia laws was an outright fiction. So it is unworthy of taking seriously for a discussion.

  • “The doctor at a nursing home in the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, was investigated following the death of the unnamed woman who had expressed a wish to die “when the time was right”.

  • Just for fun look up probabilism. It’s still a mode for determining right belief and action in the Catholic Church. At the moment it is still a little tiny loophole in an institution built on absolutism, but it has been preserved over the centuries. My guess is that they keep it because they know that even big institutions can be wrong now and again.

  • Yoikes and Anton are full of it. You are so full of self-righteousness that you cannot understand the idea of people making personal and intimate decisions about their lives without your say in the matter and approval.

    You pretend to care about the sanctity of life, but are utterly hostile the the notion of a pregnant woman’s life and personhood. You pretend you know better about how a terminal patient should live their last days more than they do themselves. You have no regard for their personhood either.

  • Because she expressed a wish to control when her life was to end.

    I wonder why you have such little regard for the lives and choices of others?

  • This one is really difficult. When I thought about it I remembered how unfeeling some of the practices that are found in the Old Testament. It amazes me when I read about a prophet or leader in the Old Testament leaving children out to die in a dessert or the mistreatment of women or a second wife, and I wonder just how far we have “progressed.” Are people “brutal” by our nature? Do we use “situation ethics” when needed? I am glad I live now, especially as a women, however if I wanted to die because life was beyond endurance I would want to be assisted to leave.

  • Okay, thank you. I still think it is low on detail. People become outraged when they think they are reading about a brand new plan and there will now be a wholesale slaughter of people with mental challenges by others who have no ethical qualms. There is plenty more to the story than that, plenty of reasons why the hospital may claim to be acting “consistently with Catholic doctrine.” That detail is missing here. And witness the comments below — soon people will be dragged from their beds . . . etc. LaDolceVipera seems to supply the necessary context below.

  • Uh, I don’t know what Anton meant for sure, but at the moment, we don’t question the good of euthanasia for our beloved animals. In the last days or weeks, we recognize an inevitable end is coming and don’t prolong their suffering. I think you would agree that this would be a compassionate option for the end of a human being’s life as well?

  • I am not going to touch that.

    Unlike our pets, people can articulate a desire to end their lives on their own terms.

  • Yes, I see that it was reprinted in other places. However, I think the fact that it is short on details lends itself to misunderstanding. The very idea of linking psychiatric disabilities with euthanasia summons images of Nazi Germany. Psychiatric disabilities, afterall, are not generally physically life threatening. So I’m for the sort of necessary detail that would hold off people (like Jeff below) jumping to conclusions.

  • Euthanasia does not occur as a medical procedure per se. One can argue the poor are euthanized via denial of medical care under the class system, but that is not supported by liberals.

    Abortion occurs when women become pregnant and believe they cannot support a child. If they are provided for they do not obtain abortions. Thus the best course of action is to democratize the economy, increase jobs, and eliminate the pay gap whereby men are paid more than women. Criminalizing abortion is a bad public policy which disrespects women and is supported only by those who wish to engage in slut-shaming. It does not reduce abortion; it only drives it underground and increases risks.

  • Spuddie, you put me in company I refuse to be associated with. My point was not about the people wanting to die or the people who might assist them. It was about the people who want to keep them from making that decision, and I am certainly not one of those people. gapaul seems to have gotten it.

  • Wow Spuddie, you misread me badly. The headline says, “Doctor who asked dementia patient’s family to hold her down while she gave lethal injection cleared”. After reading the story, I say, “And they didn’t refuse. I wonder why?” The family didn’t refuse to hold her down – get it? Of course it’s because they had her best interest at heart! Are there even other possibilities? Were they under threat or something?

  • Fair enough.

    But your post could have been read sarcastically too. The common accusation leveled against assisted suicide is that the families supports it to get the old relatives out of the way.

    It was an easy mistake for me to make under those conditions.

    My bad.

  • See my most prior comment. I found it easy to misconstrue your statements, especially with such a long delay after the follow up.

    My bad.