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Vatican investigates Belgian order over euthanasia support

Brothers of Charity agrees to provide euthanasia to mental health patients

Pope Francis, left, and Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Medichini, File

Vatican investigates Belgian order over euthanasia support

A Catholic order in Belgium is facing a Vatican investigation after the group’s decision last month to allow euthanasia in its psychiatric hospitals.

Brothers of Charity, which works around the world with elderly and mentally ill patients, announced in March that it would permit doctors to perform euthanasia at its 15 psychiatric hospitals in Belgium on non-terminal psychiatric patients who request death.

The Belgian chapter’s mostly lay board of directors published a nine-page explanation asserting that because “autonomy of the patient is the fundamental value in contemporary society,” the order will “fully respect the value of the patient’s autonomy by [honoring] the desire not to live with unbearable and futile suffering and to take seriously the request for euthanasia.”

The head of the international order, René Stockman, a Belgian based in Rome, formally requested the Belgium board of directors renounce its decision. When the board refused, Stockman requested a Vatican investigation.

“We deplore this new vision,” Stockman said. “The line between Rome and the Brothers of Charity in Belgium has been disrupted.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, is conducting the investigation, an appointment much approved by Catholic ethicists in the United States.

“Assisted suicide is a grave evil, compounded by the fact that persons with mental health disabilities are extremely vulnerable to violations of true informed consent,” Marie Hilliard with the National Catholic Bioethics Center told me. “We are pleased to see reported that Belgium’s Catholic bishops have sought the intervention of the Holy See.”

Edward Grant with the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity told me that while it’s yet unclear what the Vatican can do about the situation, Catholic charities in Belgium and the Netherlands are due for some probing.

“I can tell you that there has been a lot more accommodation on the part of Catholic facilities in both the Netherlands and in Belgium than we ought to be comfortable with,” Grant said. “This case presents an opportunity for both the Vatican and for the bishops in Belgium, and by extension the bishops in the Netherlands, to bear a more prophetic witness against the practice of euthanasia.”

As the legalization of euthanasia becomes more common in the West, the Vatican should preemptively investigate churches in the United States to ensure institutions that identify as Catholic align with the church’s pro-life stance, Grant added. About 1-in-6 U.S. hospital beds are in Catholic-run facilities.

“I don’t think the problem in this country is anywhere near, if there’s a problem at all, the problem in Belgium and the Netherlands, but if it’s all to be fair, I think it should be looked at very, very closely,” Grant said. “And whether it has to be revisions to canon law, I think some other action needs to be taken to ensure this doesn’t take place.”

Samantha Gobba

Samantha is a freelancer for WORLD Digital. She is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Hillsdale College, and has a multiple-subject teaching credential from California State University. Samantha resides in Chico, Calif., with her husband and their two sons.


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