Head of Belgian order explains shock move
Brother Rene Stockman is devastated by news that Catholic psychiatric
hospitals will offer euthanasia
Mercatornet, 28 April, 2017
Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence
Brother René Stockman is the superior general
of the Brothers of Charity, a "congregation" of
the Catholic Church which cares for the poor and
the needy. Although residing in Rome in recent
years, he has been one of the leading voices in
Belgium opposing legalised euthanasia.
This week the Belgian region, where the congregation started in the 19th
Century, announced the startling news that its hospitals would offer
euthanasia to non-terminally-ill psychiatric patients who request it. This
was big news in the Belgian media because the Brothers are major player in
Belgium's healthcare system, with 15 psychiatric hospitals and a number of
MercatorNet interviewed Brother Stockman by email about this break with
Catholic opposition to euthanasia.
MercatorNet: Is it certain that euthanasia
will be offered in the hospitals of the Brothers
of Charity? Or is there a possibility of
reversing the decision?
Brother René Stockman: For the moment are we working on
several levels: first we informed the whole congregation that as general
superior we cannot accept this decision, because it is going totally against
our charism of the charity. Secondly, we informed the Belgian Bishops
conference about the situation and I am in contact with the president,
Cardinal De Kesel. Also the Nuncio is informed. Thirdly, we informed the
Vatican and all the information has been given to the Secretariat of State.
In the meantime we continue to offer our clear arguments why we can never
Is this a world-first as the official position of a Catholic
No, we know that in Belgium there are individual psychiatric centers
where euthanasia is done, but the fact that a group with 15 psychiatric
centers and with a so-called authority in the field of mental health care is
doing that in a formal way is unique.
What proportion of places for the mentally ill are run by the Brothers
in Belgium and in Flanders?
As said, we have in Belgium 15 psychiatric hospitals (13 in Flanders and
2 in Wallonia), with 5,000 patients.
The refusal of the Brothers to allow euthanasia in their institutions
has been described by critics as a major obstacle to the growth of
euthanasia. So will this change in policy, if it goes ahead, have a big
impact on psychiatric care in Belgium?
Yes, of course. All those who were against us are now singing that
finally the group of the Brothers of Charity capitulated and came into their
You must feel that this is a tragedy. Can it be justified within a
Not at all; it is a real tragedy.
What has happened up to now if someone requested euthanasia in one of
your hospitals? Did it happen often?
When someone asked for euthanasia, the question was taken seriously;
everything was done to help the patient to change his vision of things. If
all our efforts could not change the situation and finally, because of the
legislation in Belgium the request of euthanasia was positively answered, we
arranged that the patient should be transferred to another place, outside
our hospitals. This transfer was done with respect, but always convinced
that a signal was given to society that inside our institutes no euthanasia
was possible. This was very important.
As a background to this decision, has much outside pressure been applied
to the nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals run by the Brothers?
In reality, only a few brothers are still involved in the government of
the organization, so the majority are lay-people. Yes, there was a lot of
pressure, but pressure doesn't mean that we have to capitulate.
You are well-known as a firm opponent of euthanasia and the
superior-general of your congregation. How could institutions in the Belgian
province take a different direction? Have the lay people on the board
overruled the two brothers who participate?
I said it above. Indeed, the presence of the brothers is not nearly
sufficient, but also secularization is also poisoning the congregation in
Pope Francis has often expressed his opposition to euthanasia. Will he
take action on this matter?
I have put it in the hands of the Vatican and of course in the hands of
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