Brother René Stockman, global head of the Brothers of Charity order, has condemned a decision by its Belgian branch to allow euthanasia in its 15 psychiatric hospitals — the first time a Catholic institution would officially comply since it was legalised in 2002.
The Belgian chapter decided in late April to allow assisted death, even for people not in the terminal stage of illness. Its nine-page guidelines said staff should focus on protecting life but also respect the autonomy of patients who no longer want to live.
“Because human situations are complex and ambiguous, no single choice of concrete action can fully match all values,” the guidelines said. Neither value was absolute and doctor-patient dialogue would lead to the best solution.
The decision had been discussed for a year, Br Stockman said, and the committee that took it had a majority of lay people and only “a few brothers” as members.
Br Stockman — a Belgian posted at the order’s Rome headquarters, and a specialist in psychiatric care — said he had raised the issue with Vatican authorities and the Belgian bishops’ conference. He told Catholic News Service: “I am in contact with the Vatican - the Congregation [for Institutes] of Consecrated Life [and Societies of Apostolic Life] and the Secretary of State [Pietro Parolin] who asked me for more information … I hope that there will come a clear answer from the Belgian bishops and the Vatican. I have trust in it.”
Br Stockman also said he was “hugely disturbed” by Antwerp Bishop Johan Bonny, who said he had not read the guidelines in full but thought they were balanced. The Brothers, Bishop Bonny told Belgian television, “have to find a modus vivendi between medical insights, moral judgement, public opinion and the prevailing culture in Belgium”.
In an interview with the Dutch weekly 'Katholiek Nieuwsblad', Br Stockman recalled the law allows exceptions and that Brussels Cardinal Jozef De Kesel has insisted Catholic institutions can refuse euthanasia.
PICTURE: Activists take part in an anti-euthanasia protest in Brussels