Vatican Radio is reporting on the step taken this week to stop the practice of allowing psychiatric patients in Catholic run centers in Belgium, where the practice is legal, to be euthanized.
In May, the brothers issued a statement saying they would only allow patients to be killed if there were “no reasonable treatment alternatives.” As a result, the Superior General of the order, Br. Rene Stockman, told CNA that he went to the Vatican for help to combat the new policy. He said certain members of the order decided to change their policy on euthanasia on the grounds that their stance was “culturally abnormal” in Belgium where euthanasia is widely permitted, even for children.
Prior to embarking on this new course, the Belgian brothers maintained a firm policy against euthanasia in its 15 psychiatric centers and would do everything possible to counsel patients asking for death to help them regain their desire to live. After doing everything possible to help them, if the patient persisted in wanting to die, the brothers would transfer them elsewhere.
However, last year, the group “started to deflect” from its policy, claiming that the Catholic position was unique in Belgium and that they had to “adapt” to the culture in Belgium where “secularization is very, very high, very strong,” Br. Stockman said.
As a result, he responded to the group’s decision by reiterating the Church’s position that respect of life must always be absolute.
However, the group argued that “respect of life is fundamental, but autonomy for the person is on the same level,” and once the two are placed on the same level, “then the autonomy of the patient becomes absolute, and not respect for life.”
In spite of the disapproval of their superior and the Belgian Catholic Bishops Conference, the group insisted on putting the new policy in force, which is when Br. Stockman went to the Vatican for help.
An investigation ensued and the Vatican issued a letter reiterating the Church’s position on euthanasia and insisting that the group abandon its policy.
The charity is being given until the end of August to stop the practice of euthanasia in its facilities and to sign a joint letter to their Superior General declaring that they “fully support the vision of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end.”
Any brother who refuses to sign the joint letter will face sanctions under canon law, and was told to expect legal action and even expulsion from the Church if it fails to change the policy.
Brother Stockman is now in charge of enforcing this ultimatum and told CNA that he believes all will comply.
“I know them and they are really under pressure from the whole mentality,” he said.
At the present time, the government does not force religious institutions to provide euthanasia.
“If the law changes and they say that institutions have to do euthanasia, then the situation becomes totally different,” Br. Stockman said. “Then we have to ask ourselves, can we still continue as a Catholic hospital in a certain environment where we are forced to do euthanasia?”
Thus far, it is not known if any patients were euthanized in the centers since the new policy was put in place.
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