Pope Francis Orders Catholic Group to Stop Offering Euthanasia at Belgian Hospitals

(Photo: Osservatore Romano via Reuters)Pope Francis holds an infant at the neonatal unit as he visits the San Giovanni hospital in Rome, September 16, 2016.

Pope Francis and the Vatican have ordered an end to a Belgian Catholic charity's "disloyal" and "outrageous" practice of offering euthanasia at all 15 of its psychiatric hospital centers.

The Brothers of Charity group has reportedly been making use of the legality of euthanasia in Belgium and allowing doctors to offer euthanasia for psychiatric patients in cases where "no reasonable treatment alternatives" are available.

The Holy See Press Office confirmed on Friday that Francis ordered the Catholic group to stop offering euthanasia, which is a controversial practice that goes against Roman Catholic Church doctrine.

The Vatican leader apparently said in a letter to the charity that it must "fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end."

Rene Stockman, the charity's superior general, who delivered the request from Pope Francis, said that "this is the very first time a Christian organization states that euthanasia is an ordinary medical practice that falls under the physician's therapeutic freedom."

"This is disloyal, outrageous and unacceptable," Stockman said, according to The Associated Press.

The decision to allow euthanasia was apparently made by the group's lay board of directors, which prompted an investigation by the Vatican.

The Brothers of Charity has clarified that patients who request to die are granted such permission only if they are in a state of "unbearable suffering." Also, at least three doctors, including one psychiatrist, must be consulted.

Mattias De Vriendt, a spokesman for the Belgian charity, revealed that the group has recieved requests from patients seeking to end their lives, but did not say whether any procedures had been performed yet.

The Vatican has warned that the charity might face legal action, and could be expelled from the Church unless it reverses its policy.

"We will take our time in the next few weeks to evaluate these letters," de Vriendt said, referring to Pope Francis' order.

Euthanasia remains a divisive issue among evangelicals as well, a LifeWay Research survey from last year pointed out.

The U.S. online poll, which randomly sampled 1,000 respondents, found that four out of 10 evangelicals believe that doctors should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives.

"If they are facing a slow, painful death, Americans want options," Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said at the time.

"Many believe that asking for help in dying is a moral option. They don't believe that suffering until they die of natural causes is the only way out."

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