Br. René Stockman says it clearly: the path to euthanasia is not viable for a Catholic hospital. After a board of trustees decision to allow euthanasia in Belgian hospitals sponsored by the Brothers of Charity, the community’s general superior spoke with CNA about the issues at stake, and the possibility that the Brothers of Charity might discontinue sponsoring hospitals if things do not change.
The Congregation of the Brothers of Charity is a religious community of brothers founded in Belgium in 1807, with the mission to care for the poor, elderly and those affected by psychiatric diseases. “It was immediately clear to our founder, Fr. Pierre Joseph Triest, that there was the need to combine the contemplative life of religious orders with a professional work on charity. But we are not social workers, though we work in professional ways. Mostly, through our social activity we help people to see how God shine in their lives.”
Pioneers in the field of psychiatric care, the Brothers of Charity are active in many parts of the world. In Belgium, they sponsor 15 hospitals and care for about 5,000 patients. The hospitals are managed by a civil corporation named after the Brothers of Charity, though the board of trustees includes only 3 Brothers of Charity out of 15 members.
This board made the decision to allow Catholic hospitals to permit acts of euthanasia, in certain limited circumstances. The Brothers of Charity protested this decision, appealed to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Vatican responded by requesting that the corporation stop allowing euthanasia in their hospitals. The board of trustees defied the Vatican request, and published a long statement in which they reiterated their view.
Br. Stockman explained to CNA that “the next step is a meeting with the authorities of the Vatican during the week of Sep. 25. We will then make our decisions in accordance with the vision of the Vatican.”
Asked if the Brothers of Charity could withdraw their sponsorship from the hospital, Br. Stockam said that “if there no change in the policies, it is a possibility.” If the 3 members of the organization leave the board of the hospital, it will no longer be considered a Catholic hospital.
In their statement, the hospital board of trustees lamented the lack of dialogue and stressed they will “continue with the request of establishing a dialogue,” though they do not want in any way change their decision. Br. Stockman commented that “there is only a request to dialogue on the way to implement euthanasia, and not on the fact of euthanasia as such. I asked very clearly many times to first dialogue on euthanasia and the vision as such, in the hope coming to a consensus, but they refused to change their initial vision”.
The civil board has claimed that their decision is “consistent” with the doctrine of the Church, since “the text has come about starting from the Christian frame of thought as we apply it within the organization. In this, we always take into account the shifts and evolutions within society. We have considered the following elements: recognition of the exceptional, proportional view of ethics, deontological view and ideologization, and choice of conscience".
This view is completely rejected by Br. Stockman. “This is totally wrong and against the doctrine of the Church,” he underscored. He then explained: “The whole issue starts with the refusal to see the respect of life still as absolute. For them, it became fundamental, on the same level as the autonomy of the patient and the relation in the care. Therefore we cannot accept their statement. They take distance of the doctrine of the Church.”
Hermann van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister who is a part of the board of trustees, said that “the times when the Pope had the last word are far away.”
Brother Stockman explained to CNA that the Brothers of Charity appealed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith because the civil board of trustees “refused both our request and also the one of the Belgian bishops” to change their policies, and so “we had to appeal to the Holy See.” The Holy See, Br. Stockman recounted, “asked the hospitals to conform themselves with the doctrine of the Church about the absolute respect for life and not doing euthanasia to psychiatric patients. After our request as general superior and council and after the statement of the Belgian Bishops, the civil corporation governing our hospitals in Belgium refused to adapt their vision.”
Br. Stockman affirmed that the Brothers of Charity would remain faithful to the Church’s teaching, despite serious civil pressure to the contrary. “I am sure,” he said, “that the great majority of the brothers, also in Belgium, are against euthanasia, but the pressure on them is very high. We have clear guidelines against euthanasia, that we developed already before this case.”