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Pope orders Belgian brothers to stop performing euthanasia on patients

Pope Francis has ordered a group of Belgian Brothers to stop offering euthanasia to psychiatric patients, giving them until the end of August to stop the practice.

Pope Francis has given his approval to a Vatican demand that the Belgian Brothers of Charity, which takes charge of the running of 15 centres for psychiatric patients across the country, must cease the practice by the end of the month, said Br Rene Stockman, superior general of the order.

The Brothers on the order’s board must also sign a joint letter to the superior general, stating that they ‘fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end’, with those who refuse facing repercussions under canon law, legal action taken against the group, and potential expulsion from the Church.

It follows numerous requests that the group its new policy that doctors are allowed to perform assisted suicide on mentally ill patients with non-terminal illnesses at its premises, and an investigation by the Vatican’s Doctrine of Faith for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life congregations “The Holy Father was formally informed about it and was also informed about the steps to be taken,” said Br Stockman.

He said if any of the brothers refused to sign the letter upholding Catholic teaching against euthanasia, ‘then also we will start the correct procedure foreseen in canon law.’

The Belgian bishops and the nuncio to Belgium have been told about the decision.

Brother Stockman, himself a psychiatric care specialist, went to the Vatican in the after the Brothers of Charity group rejected his request to reverse the policy, the policy also came only weeks after the bishops of Belgium said they would not accept euthanasia in Catholic organisations, and the Brothers also ignored a statement written and signed by Cardinal Gerhard Muller sent to the group members about the church’s teaching on euthanasia.

The group serves 5,000 patients a year, and is thought to be the most important mental health care provider in Flanders. Around 12 patients in the Brothers’ care are thought to have asked for euthanasia this year, two being transferred to other locations.

The Brothers of Charity in Belgium announced the policy in March, citing the wish to merge the centre practices with the Belgian law on euthanasia passed in 2003.

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