Pope Francis urged a Catholic charity in Belgium this week to reverse its decision to begin allowing euthanasia at its psychiatric hospitals, according to the Vatican press office.
The Brothers of Charity, a religious order which runs 15 psychiatric hospitals in Belgium, recently announced plans to begin allowing patients to be euthanized, against Catholic Church teachings. The board that oversees the order made the decision this past spring.
Belgium allows euthanasia of people with curable conditions, including psychological problems and other issues. The country even legalized child euthanasia in 2014.
Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the charity, delivered the pope’s message and criticized the Brothers of Charity for allowing people to be killed, rather than treating them as valuable human beings, the Associated Press reports.
“This is the very first time a Christian organization states that euthanasia is an ordinary medical practice that falls under the physician’s therapeutic freedom. This is disloyal, outrageous and unacceptable,” Stockman said.
Pope Francis said the charity has until the end of August to reverse its decision and stop killing patients via euthanasia, according to the Catholic News Agency. The pontiff also said the charity’s brothers must sign a letter vowing to adhere to church teachings about the sanctity of human life, the report states.
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A spokesperson for the charity said they received the pope’s letters but have not responded yet. They also did not say if they had euthanized anyone at their hospitals since the board first allowed the deadly procedure in May.
The Brothers of Charity said its hospitals will perform euthanasia on patients who have “no reasonable treatment alternatives.” They also said they would be very cautious when considering patients’ requests to die.
Here’s more from CNA:
Brothers who refuse to sign the letter will face punitive action under canon law, while the group itself is expected to face legal action and could have its Catholic status revoked if it does not change its policy.
The Vatican order, sent at the beginning of August, follows several prior requests that the group drop the policy, which allows doctors to euthanize non-terminal mentally ill patients on its grounds.
In comments to CNA Aug. 10, Br. Stockman said he initially went to the Vatican for help in the spring, when the group, which is a state organization run by the order, decided to change their policy on euthanasia on the grounds that their stance was culturally abnormal.
Stockman said Belgium does not require hospitals to euthanize patients, but there is a lot of societal pressure to do so.
“If the law changes and they say that institutions have to do euthanasia, then the situation becomes totally different. 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?” he said. “But until now we have the possibility to refuse euthanasia inside the walls of the institute.”
Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002. In 2014, it became the first country in the world to lift all age restrictions on the deadly practice and allow children to be killed, too.
In 2012, Belgium recorded 1,432 cases of euthanasia – a 25 percent increase from 2011. The number of deaths has continued to climb. In 2015, 2,023 people were killed by euthanasia in Belgium.
Euthanasia is not limited to unbearable physical suffering and terminal illness – the two things euthanasia advocates often use to justify the legalized killing. A growing percentage of people are being euthanized in Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries because of treatable physical and psychological disorders – everything from Alzheimer’s to autism to loneliness.