Euthanasia Challenged

Belgium is embroiled in a religious freedom controversy after the new head of the country’s Roman Catholic Church demanded that church-run hospitals and nursing homes have the right to refuse to euthanize their patients. Euthanasia for terminally ill adults was legalized in Belgium in 2002 and has been broadly supported. But opposition has grown as lawmakers extended the practice to terminally ill children and people with severe psychological problems. In a newspaper interview published the day after Christmas, the nation’s new primate, Archbishop Jozef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels, acknowledged that secular-minded Belgians had no problem with abortion or euthanasia. “But it is not obvious from my faith,” he said. “I think that we have the right, on an institutional level, to decide not to do it.” Despite dwindling Mass attendance, the church still plays an important role in Belgium’s mixed private and public health care system. Catholic hospitals, which receive state subsidies, officially offer only palliative care for end-of-life patients, but not all of them have an outright ban on euthanasia in their guidelines.

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