Battle lines drawn in Belgium over euthanasia and conscience rights

This article was published by HOPE Australia on January 2, 2016.

By Paul Russell

Paul Russell

Paul Russell

Family set to sue over ‘non-euthanasia’ in Catholic aged care home.

Over recent weeks the issue of conscientious objection, or the ‘conscience clause’ in the Belgian euthanasia law has been brought into the spotlight by the assertion by the newArchbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Jozef De Kesel, that he has the right to refuse Catholic hospitals and aged care facilities to co-operate with euthanasia.

Euthanasia advocates both in academia and in the medical profession have bristled at the suggestion that institutions might say ‘non’ with many displaying a distinct and disturbing lack of understanding about the status of the 14 year old statute that allows doctors to kill their patients.

The Belgian law clearly provides a conscientious ‘out’ for doctors and others assisting in a euthanasia but it is otherwise silent about institutions. Some suggest that the extension to institutions such as a church ae implied while others suggest, dubiously to my thinking, that the silence suggests otherwise.

While, initially at least, this seemed like very much like an academic exercise with no-one really expecting the new bishop to force a show down. But a showdown was already in the making.

Various Belgian news outlets, today, are running with a story about a refusal by a Catholic nursing home to allow a doctor onto their premises to perform euthanasia. According to reports, the 74-year-old woman was terminally ill with metastatic cancer and living in the St. Augustine residential care centre in Diest.

The process of requesting euthanasia began in 2011 and progressed for six months before St. Augustine’s management refused access supposedly only days before the euthanasia was to take place. The various stories do not say whether or not the facility was formally aware of the process, however the family of the woman say that, after initially believing that the matter was simply a misunderstanding, they arranged for the woman to be transported to a private residence where the death took place. The family are claiming that the facility caused additional psychological and physical suffering for their mother.

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