Religious brothers push back on euthanasia directive for Catholic hospitals

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Following a decision by the board of several Belgian Catholic psychiatric hospitals to start performing euthanasia, the religious brothers who operate the hospitals said the policy change is unacceptable and cannot be implemented.

“We deplore this new vision,” said Brother René Stockman, the superior general of the Brothers of Charity. Brother Stockman is himself a Belgian and a leading opponent of euthanasia.

The Brothers of Charity in Belgium run 15 psychiatric hospitals with 5,000 patients. The board controlling their institutions has said it will now allow euthanasia in these hospitals.

Brother Stockman said he has informed the Belgian congregation that “as general superior we cannot accept this decision, because it is going totally against our charism of the charity.”

He said the decision can “not at all” be justified in a Christian framework. “It is a real tragedy,” he told the Australian-based website MercatorNet in an interview published April 28.

The Belgian Brothers of Charity board announced the decision on its website.

“We take seriously unbearable and hopeless suffering and patients’ request for euthanasia,” the board said. “On the other hand, we do want 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 Stockman said only a few brothers are still involved on the board governing the Belgian facilities. The majority of the members are lay people.

“Yes, there was a lot of pressure, but pressure doesn’t mean that we have to capitulate,” he said, charging that secularization is “poisoning the congregation” in Belgium.

Raf De Ryce, chairman of the board overseeing the institutions, contended that the new policy was not a major change, the bioethics site BioEdge reports, citing Belgian newspapers.

“It is not that we used to be against euthanasia and now suddenly are for it. This is consistent with our existing criteria,” he said. “We are making both possible routes for our patients: both a pro-life perspective and euthanasia.”

De Ryce said the inviolability of life is “an important foundation” but for the board it is not an absolute.

“This is where we are on a different wavelength from Rome,” he said.

Brother Stockman, however, said the decision of the Belgian organization has had a big impact. It has drawn praise from backers of legal euthanasia.

“All those who were against us are now singing that finally the group of the Brothers of Charity capitulated and came into their camp,” he said.

The Catholic hospitals’ previous policy was clear about opposition to euthanasia.  

“When someone asked for euthanasia, the question was taken seriously; everything was done to help the patient to change his vision of things,” Brother Stockman said. If the situation remained unchanged, the patient was transferred.

“This transfer was done with respect, but always convinced that a signal was given to society that inside our institutes no euthanasia was possible,” he said. “This was very important.”

The Brothers of Charity’s general congregation has informed the Belgian bishops’ conference and the apostolic nuncio to Belgium about the matter. Brother Stockman said he is in contact with the bishops’ conference president Cardinal Jozef De Kesel.

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