BRUSSELS, Belgium (ChurchMilitant.com) - A religious order in Belgium has approved euthanasia of mentally ill patients in their Catholic hospitals.
The board controlling the psychiatric institutions of the Brothers of Charity posted a statement on the order's website Tuesday, saying it will allow euthanasia in their psychiatric hospitals.
The statement reads, "We 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."
The Brothers of Charity is an international religious congregation with a global presence in 30 countries. Its province in Belgium provides some 5,000 beds for psychiatric patients in that country alone.
The head of the order in Rome, René Stockman, is reportedly shocked by the open acceptance of euthanasia by the Belgian province of the Brothers of Charity. The letter by the board reportedly acknowledges that Stockman explicitly rejects their decision.
During a recent interview, Stockman confirmed that he's not in agreement with the board's decision to greenlight death for mental patients. "We deplore this new vision. We share the same ideas, but come to a different decision," said Stockman. He made it clear that he did not want euthanasia carried out within the order's institutions. He added, "The line between Rome and the Brothers of Charity in Belgium has been disrupted."
Raf de Rycke, chairman of the board in Belgium, denies their decision is contrary to Church teaching. In a public statement Rycke claimed, "We have not made a 180-degree turn. It is not that we used to be against euthanasia and now suddenly are for it. This is consistent with our existing criteria. We are making both possible routes for our patients: both a pro-life perspective and euthanasia."
Rycke adds, "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."
Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002. Their law allows patients, who are undergoing supposedly unbearable and incurable suffering, to request a doctor's assistance in committing suicide. They need not be terminally ill. The decision to allow euthanasia at mental hospitals allows patients the same option when experiencing schizophrenia, personality disorders, depression, autism or loneliness.
Marcel Zwahlen, a researcher at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern in Switzerland, questions the mental competency of psychiatric patients to make such a request. "Most of the concerns surround the 'free will' of the patient and whether the decision to get help in committing suicide is really free, especially for cases with neuropsychiatric conditions," said Zwahlen.