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.
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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 De 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 euthanasia.”
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 Rome.”