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Belgian monks to Vatican: Euthanasia for non-terminal patients still a go for us

After remarking on the need for a consistent pro-life approach on immigration in the US, Pope Francis might have to clean house on that topic with religious brothers closer to home. The Belgian Brothers of Charity issued a defiant statement today after a Vatican order to stop offering euthanasia, especially in non-terminal cases, for their psychiatric patients. Rather than comply, the monks insist that they have plenty of room within Catholic teaching to assist in suicides when patients request it:

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.”

The group claims that talks with the Vatican have gotten nowhere, which might be because there’s not a lot of middle ground to plumb in this case. In their view, the Vatican has stuck to the “deontoligical view and ideologization,” which is a fancy way of saying “pointing out the cathechism and Catholic teaching on life.” They argue that this question requires a broader view of ethics than that found in Catholic teaching:

In recent weeks, paths have been explored to get both parties to the table. However, this has not yet produced any results. In the meantime, we will continue to request establishing a dialogue so that we would have a chance to explain our vision statement and our argumentation.

One of the debates that has arisen over the past few months in response to our vision statement is whether this vision is still consistent with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. We emphatically believe so. 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. (see attached text)

We wish to emphasize that with the new vision statement we continue to put the inviolability of life first and not just regard it as equal to the value of autonomy. The vision originated with the aim of providing the best possible care.

In our facilities, we deal with patients’ requests for euthanasia for mental suffering in a non-terminal situation with the utmost caution. We take unbearable and hopeless suffering and patients’ requests for euthanasia seriously. On the other hand, we want to protect life and ensure that euthanasia is performed only if there is no more possibility of providing a reasonable treatment perspective to the patient.

This issue hinges especially on the fact that the patients involved are non-terminal in physical health. Even if they were terminally ill, however, active intervention of euthanasia would be prohibited, as per CCC 2277, which clearly states that any kind of euthanasia for “handicapped, sick, or dying persons … is morally unacceptable.” That applies to an act of omission as well as an act of commission if either directly result in death. In a particularly apt warning in this case, the catechism instructs that good faith does not make this a question of prudential judgment:

The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

In other words, this teaching doesn’t hinge on the circumstances involved. “Recognition of the exceptional” and a “proportional view of ethics” are as irrelevant as they would be in cases of abortion (CCC 2272). The text of the catechism could not be plainer, nor the direction of the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Vatican. However, the group’s view of papal authority in this matter can best be described by their reaction to the order from the Vatican last month even after their order’s leader told them to shape up:

Brother René Stockman, the order’s Rome-based global head, told the Flemish church news service Kerknet that a planned consultation had already failed and he would be ready for dialogue only “if it’s about barring euthanasia, and not about finding a modus vivendi”. …

Stockman said last month he was confident the brothers on the board would follow “the Magisterium of the Church” but was not sure about the lay members.

One of them, former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, reacted to the Vatican ultimatum last month with a tweet saying: “The time of ‘Roma locuta, causa finita’ is long past”.

For those who aren’t familiar with the phrase (properly Roma locuta, causa finita est), it means “Rome has spoken, the matter is settled,” a slogan taken from Augustine sixteen centuries ago. If that’s what they think, they’d better be prepared for disappointment. Pope Francis may be a reformer, but he’s hardly a congregationalist. When it comes to keeping the seamless garment of pro-life teachings together, Francis will hardly allow a Belgian group to yank on the string and unravel it to suit their own purposes, especially to allow for the killing of non-terminal patients.

What happens now? Catholic News Service asked that question a month ago to a canon lawyer in Belgium:

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”.

That would be a decision they made themselves, of course. If they want to go their own way and ignore the teaching and the authority of the Catholic Church, they’re welcome to do so … but not while remaining Catholic.

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