Belgium's bishops have issued guidelines for pastoral care of the dying, stressing the need to accompany patients at the end of life but drawing a line at being present if they opt to induce their own death.
Requesting euthanasia, which has been legal in Belgium since 2002, “has become more and more normal in our society” and creates for pastoral workers “tensions that are not easy to bear,” they said in a new brochure entitled “I’ll take you by the hand”.
The brochure starts from the Biblical principle that nobody should be abandoned and praises all those — family, medical staff, chaplains and other pastoral workers — who accompany the dying.
It advises pastoral workers to accompany patients who request euthanasia and help them clarify their choice “without judgement and with profound respect”. Not all these patients go through with their request, it says, and talking and praying with the dying can help them summon the courage to face a natural death.
It includes a selection of psalms, prayers and quotations from the Gospels and Epistles to pray with the dying.
If a patient insists on euthanasia, the brochure says, a chaplain “cannot abandon him to his fate, even if he does not approve of the decision in conscience … this in no way amounts to approval”.
Commenting on the brochure, Brussels Cardinal Jozef de Kesel reiterated the Church’s condemnation of euthanasia and clarified the ambiguity created by the brochure’s lack of advice on what to do when a patient is bent on euthanasia.
"We never wanted to write that chaplains must be physically present at the moment of euthanasia," he told the daily 'La Libre Belgique'.
"A request for euthanasia is not a reason to abandon a person," he said. "But not being present at the precise moment of euthanasia is a question of common sense."