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Belgium Catholic nursing home sued for refusing to euthanize elderly woman

Family of elderly cancer patient has sued a Catholic care home for elderly patients in Belgium for denying access to the woman’s doctor to administer lethal injection on its premises.

The elderly woman, Mariette Buntjens was eventually removed from the nursing home and taken to house to be euthanized after she had said her goodbyes to loved ones.

A lawsuit was filed soon after her death by Nadine Engelen, her daughter who claims the nursing home caused her mother extra “physical and mental suffering" by denying her dying request to die within its walls.She filed the lawsuit against the organization to whom the Sint-Augustinus rest home belongs. Even though the hearing has been postponed twice, a new hearing is set to take place in April at a civil court in the Belgium Catholic nursing home.

“It was terrible for my mother. She was still very alert mentally," Nadine said.

She is taking the care home to a civil court in Louvain in April in a test case which could determine whether Church-run institutions have the right to refuse to be involved in acts of euthanasia.

Meanwhile the circumstances surrounding the denial seem unfair. The euthanasia request was made six months previously, entailing the filling in of official documents, consultations with doctors and nursing staff as well as a physician who was not attached to the nursing home, who was to come in to perform the act. It was only days before the euthanasia was to take place that the directors of Sint-Augustinus let the patient and her family know that he would finally not be given access.

Sint-Augustinus has not been available for comments, only saying that it is “serenely" waiting for the hearing in April. The point is important: while the Belgian law does not clearly provide for conscientious objection for institutions as such, euthanasia is a sensitive affair and they should make their standpoint very clear, says solicitor Fernand Keuleneer, who is a former substitute member of Belgium’s euthanasia commission.

At present, Belgian law permits doctors to conscientiously object to euthanasia but is silent on whether institutions enjoy the same right.

Zorgnet Vlaanderen, the Catholic network that supervises mainly Catholic health facilities in the region according to “Christian ethics" says it gives no instructions to nursing homes as regards euthanasia. “We can imagine that the authorities may have preferred euthanasia to take place in a patient’s home, in order to preserve the nursing home’s serenity".

The Belgian parliament legalized euthanasia on 28 May 2002. There have been about 1,400 cases a year since the law was introduced, and a record 1,807 cases were recorded in 2013.Surveys in Belgium have shown massive public support, and many doctors say it gives patients with constant and unendurable suffering a practical and humane way to die peacefully. But even in a country with a far-reaching acceptance, disagreements still exists.





  1. James Leonard Park Reply

    It seems likely that this suit will fail. The dying woman was able to find peace in a different location, even if the Catholic nursing home would not allow a lethal injection on its property. Usually right-to-die laws do allow institutions and individuals to decide not to cooperate. But, as noted here, when they do refuse a legal request for help in dying, they might be required to refer the patient to another institution or individual who will agree with the plan for the end of life. This preserves both the patient’s right-to-die and the provider’s right to decline to take part. That seems a reasonable compromise.

  2. Holly Williams Reply

    What are your sources for news?

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