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Less than a month after taking office, the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussells in Belgium, Archbishop Jozef de Kesel, has found himself in the midst of controversy. In a country where euthanasia is legally tolerated, if not outright legal, Archbishop de Kesel has stated flatly that no Catholic institution will be allowed to be the scene of a “mercy killing.”
Installed on Dec. 12, the archbishop said in one of his first interviews with the media that Catholic hospitals and care institutions have the right to refuse to cooperate with both euthanasia and abortion, reported Paul Russell of HOPE: preventing euthanasia and assisted suicide, a coalition of groups and individuals who oppose the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide and support measures that will make euthanasia and assisted suicide unthinkable.
Russell pointed out that current law in Belgium dates to 2002, when a bill created a defense in law for an act of euthanasia. It did not out-and-out legalize the practice itself. He quoted a 10-year alternate member of the Euthanasia Evaluation Commission, Fernand Keuleneer, who said “It is wrong to argue that the law requires Catholic hospitals to apply euthanasia.”
De Kesel’s remarks were greeted with scorn by some public officials, notably Wim Distelmans, co-chairman of the Euthanasia Evaluation Commission, who said that if the “right to euthanasia is rejected, then that’s problematic.”
“The life of Catholic institutions and subsidies must follow the law,” added liberal member of parliament Jean-Jacques De Gucht.
“Each institution has to ensure that patients who qualify do get the opportunity” for euthanasia, said fellow MP Valerie Van Peel.
Ethics professor Willem Lemmens charged that the archbishop’s strong stand is not consistent with actual practice in Catholic institutions in the archdiocese. Lemmens says that all major Catholic care facilities and hospitals in Flanders have in recent years crafted guidelines and agreements that allow euthanasia, either at their own institution or in others to which they refer patients.
Nothing in Russell’s article rebuts that claim, though it is possible the policies merely follow Catholic doctrine, which allows nature to take its course when it is deemed that a medical intervention would do more harm than good to a dying patient.