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Catholic psychiatric hospitals to euthanize patients with ‘hopeless suffering’

Claire Chretien Claire Chretien Follow Claire

BELGIUM, May 2, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – A Catholic religious order that cares for about 5,000 psychiatric patients in Belgium will allow euthanasia in its hospitals.

The Brothers of Charity posted a statement on their website about how they "take seriously unbearable and hopeless suffering and patients’ request for euthanasia."

"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," it said.

The head of the Brothers of Charity, Brother Rene Stockman, said he strongly opposes this and is appealing to the Vatican and Belgian Catholic bishops for help.

"I wish I could say that I am stunned by the decision of institutions run by Brothers of Charity in Belgium to begin offering euthanasia as a 'prudent' treatment option for psychiatric patients in their care," Father Thomas Petri, a moral theologian and vice president and academic dean of the Pontifical faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies, told LifeSiteNews via email.

"While the head of their order is opposed to euthanasia, as he should be since euthanasia is not only an offense against the Gospel of Jesus Christ but an offense against life itself, the board of the Brothers’ institutions has made this decision," said Petri.

The chairman of the hospitals' board, Raf De Rycke, told De Morgen that allowing euthanasia of psychiatric patients isn't a radical change for the institutions. MercatorNet translated his remarks.

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

The hospitals previously would transfer a patient requesting euthanasia to a non-Catholic place.

"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," said De Rycke.

"This development is not stunning to me since the Catholic Church in Belgium has been radically overrun by secularism," said Petri. "The last time Mass attendance in that country was measured was in 1998. Only 11 percent of Catholics were going to Mass then. It has no doubt dropped even further by 2017; I suspect to the low single digits. What we see now is the inevitable consequence of a people that have abandoned their roots both in the Gospel and in the best human reason has to offer."

"Places in Belgium that should be considered safe sites such as Catholic institutions aren’t safe sites at all," Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told LifeSiteNews.

"What is euthanasia? It is allowing one of your doctors to lethally inject one of your patients," he explained. "They’re gonna allow one of their doctors to kill a psychiatric patient ... Giving somebody a lethal injection is not a treatment for their mental or physical ills. It is a way of abandoning our people to death."

"There’s a real question about people at the end of their lives" and whether they can freely choose euthanasia if they're "experiencing excruciating suffering" and "feeling fear and abandonment and loneliness," said Dr. Christopher Gross of Divine Mercy University (formerly the Institute for Psychological Sciences). Those concerns are "amplified in a situation where you’re going to permit people who have already entered a facility because they have some sort of psychological problem ... to make the determination to end their lives."

"Catholic institutions killing their patients" in Belgium sets a dangerous precedent. Euthanasia advocates will use this to exert pressure on Catholic institutions in other countries, Schadenberg warned.

"It seems to me, given the legal situation in Belgium and the libertine view of euthanasia at work in that country, the Brothers of Charity need to reconsider this apostolate," suggested Petri. "It would be far worse to remain complicit and cooperate in the culture of death now let loose in their institutions than to withdraw, pray for conversion, and to be prepared to help the victims of the fallout."

"As for the board, and their self-justification, one doesn’t even know where to begin when they insist they are both pro-life and pro-euthanasia," the Dominican priest continued. "How does one converse with people who have lost all rationality and deny the principal of non-contradiction? In the United States, such persons are normally encouraged to seek psychiatric care."

Belgium and the Netherlands have some of the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world.

In June 2016, a court ordered a Catholic nursing home in Belgium to pay damages after it refused to let a patient be euthanized on its premises in 2011. Child euthanasia is legal there.

There were 6,091 reported assisted deaths in the Netherlands in 2016, and the number of patients euthanized for dementia or mental illness there is increasing. 

A Dutch government panel recently ruled that a doctor who forcibly euthanized a woman against her will "acted in good faith" and should be cleared of wrongdoing.

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