The board of the Belgian Brothers of Charity announced Tuesday it will continue offering euthanasia to patients in their psychiatric centres, despite being ordered by the Vatican to stop doing so. The “Broeders van Liefde” board had been given until the end of August to comply with the Vatican order, which was seen and approved by Pope Francis. Brothers of the order were also asked to sign a joint letter to their general superior, Brother René Stockman, confirming their adherence to Church teaching.

In a Sept. 12 statement the organization defied the Vatican request and said it “continues to stand by its vision statement on euthanasia for mental suffering in a non-terminal situation.” Furthermore, it claims that in adhering to this vision, the organization “is still consistent with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. We emphatically believe so.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2277, states that: “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”

The Brothers of Charity in Belgium run 15 psychiatric hospitals with 5,000 patients. The board controlling these institutions, which consists of a few Brothers but primarily of lay members, announced in the spring that they would permit euthanasia in their facilities. The board argued in their recent statement that their position “always takes into account the shifts and evolutions within society”, while also considering “recognition of the exceptional, proportional view of ethics, deontological view and ideologization, and choice of conscience.”

This view is not shared by the general superior of the order, Br. Rene Stockman, who initially went to the Vatican for help in the spring when the board announced that it would start permitting euthanasia within the order’s facilities. Previously, since the year 2000, the group had maintained a firm policy against euthanasia and how to cope with requests for it. Br. Stockman explained to CNA in August that the group would take requests for euthanasia seriously, and try to help the patient regain their desire for life, “knowing of course that someone who is very depressive can have the tendency to ask for euthanasia.”

After doing everything possible to help alleviate any depression present in a patient, if the individual still requests euthanasia — which is legal in Belgium — the brothers would transfer them elsewhere. Br. Stockman added at the time that Belgium is a country in which secularization is very strong and euthanasia is legal and widely accepted, even among children, making the fight against it all the more difficult

It is expected that the Vatican will respond to the order’s latest statement. As to the potential punitive measures Pope Francis might ponder, Professor Kurt Martens, a Belgian Catholic who teaches canon law at the Catholic University of America, told CNA Deutsch in an email interview Aug 14: “the Brothers who are members of the board face dismissal from their institute - thus will no longer be brothers and members of the institute - and the health care institutions would forfeit their right to call themselves Catholic”.