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Catholics in Conflict Over Assisted Suicide

Volume 31, Issue 7,8 & 9, September 21, 2017

Maria Cheng, Associated Press, Excerpted from the August 12, 2017 edition of the Times Colonist


     Island Catholic News in its Summer, 2017 edition looked closely at the emerging ethical issue of medical assistance in dying, hoping to strike a middle ground between the two foundational stances on the issue (see Christine Jamieson’s “Living Ethically in Face of Death: Probing Some Deeper Question”).
     The spiritual nuances of the issue have emerged in 15 Belgian Catholic psychiatric hospitals. Since the difficulties of the issue are not going to go away any time soon, ICN focussed on the case of former Catholic priest, John Shields in underlining the complexity of the topic even in terms of Catholic theology.
    pope Francis has ordered a Belgian Catholic charity to stop offering euthanasia in its psychiatric hospitals.
     In May, the Brothers of Charity group announced it would allow doctors to perform euthanasia at its 15 psychiatric hospitals in Belgium, one of only two countries – along with the Netherlands – where doctors are legally allowed to kill people with mental-health problems, at their request.
     To qualify, people must be in a state of “unbearable suffering” and at least three doctors, including one psychiatrist, must be consulted.
     The charity said in a statement that euthanasia would only be performed if there were “no reasonable treatment alternatives” and that such requests would be considered with “the greatest caution.”
     “We respect the freedom of doctors to carry out euthanasia or not,” the group said, noting that this freedom was “guaranteed by law.”
     The Vatican press office said this week that the Pope had asked the Belgians not to perform euthanasia.
     The Catholic Church opposes euthanasia and the Holy See has begun investigating the decision to allow the procedure, which was made by the group’s lay board of directors.
     The Belgian charity’s administrative headquarters in Rome issued a statement in May, arguing that allowing euthanasia “goes against the basic principles” of the Catholic Church.
     “This is the very first time a Christian organization states that euthanasia is an ordinary medical practice that falls under the physician’s therapeutic freedom,” wrote the charity’s superior general, Rene Stockman, who delivered the request from Pope Francis via two letters.
     “This is disloyal, outrageous and unacceptable.” 
     Mattias De Vriendt, a spokesman for the Belgian charity, said it had received the Vatican’s request but had not yet responded.
     “We will take our time in the next few weeks to evaluate these letters,” de Vriendt said. He said the charity’s hospitals had received requests from patients seeking euthanasia recently but could not say whether any procedures had been performed.
     The vast majority of patients seeking euthanasia in Belgium have a fatal illness such as cancer or a degenerative disease. While the number of people euthanized for psychiatric reasons accounts for only about three per cent of Belgium’s annual 4,000 euthanasia deaths, there has been a threefold increase in the past decade.