Belgian Catholic psychiatric hospitals
'adjust' their view of euthanasia
BioEdge, 29 April, 2017
Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence
One of the last substantial barriers to
increasing the number of euthanasia cases for
non-terminally-ill psychiatric patients in
Belgium seems to have crumbled.
A religious order in the Catholic Church, the
Brothers of Charity, is responsible for a large
proportion of beds for psychiatric patients in
Belgium – about 5,000 of them. The international
head of the order, Brother René Stockman, is a
Belgian who has been one of the leading
opponents of euthanasia in recent years.
Nonetheless, in a surprise move this week,
the board controlling the institutions of the
Brothers of Charity announced
that from now on, it will allow euthanasia
to take place in their psychiatric hospitals.
statement posted on their website the
Brothers of Charity explain the policy shift.
"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."
Euthanasia for psychiatric patients has
already happened dozens of times in Belgium.
But from now on it will probably be easier
for people suffering from schizophrenia,
disorders, depression, autism, or
loneliness to access it. In fact, it will be
hard to find an institution in Belgium
where euthanasia is not being offered as an
Brother Stockman was stunned. "We deplore
this new vision,"
he told the media.
Nursing homes and hospitals opposing
euthanasia have been under even more pressure
court fined a Catholic nursing home a total
of €6,000 last year for blocking a resident from
However, Stockman felt that this was not an
open and shut case. "I am confident that we have
the right to refuse euthanasia," Stockman told
De Morgen. "We want to take seriously the needs
of the patients, but the inviolability of life
is for us an absolute. We cannot accept that
euthanasia is carried out within the walls of
our institutions. "
The leading figure in Belgian euthanasia, Dr
Wim Distelmans, was delighted. Fifteen years
he wrote in a newspaper op-ed, the Brothers
of Charity have finally admitted that they had
excluded the democratically approved policy of
euthanasia from their institutions and forbidden
doctors to follow their conscience and
Rubbing it in further, a member of the
Belgian Parliament, Jean-Jacques De Gucht,
summed up the situation: "the last relics of the
paternalism of the shepherd have been replaced
by individual self-determination."
The chairman of the board,
Raf De Rycke, an economist who has worked
with the Brothers of Charity for years, denied
that the ethos of their hospitals had changed
"We have not made a 180 degree turn," he told
Morgen newspaper. "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
Although this seems odd for a Catholic group,
especially when the Pope has been outspoken in
denouncing euthanasia, De Rycke believes that
the inspiration of the Belgian Brothers of
Charity fundamentally remains the same. "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
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