Belgian Catholic nursing home fined for refusing euthanasia

Judges in Belgium have fined a Catholic nursing home for refusing to allow the euthanasia of a lung cancer sufferer on its premises.

The St Augustine rest home in Diest was ordered to pay a total of €6,000.

This was after it stopped doctors from giving a lethal injection to Mariette Buntjens.

Days later, the 74-year-old woman was taken by ambulance to her private address to die “in peaceful surroundings”, the Catholic Herald reported.

Her family later sued the nursing home for causing their mother “unnecessary mental and physical suffering”.

A civil court in Louvain upheld the complaint and fined the home €3,000.

It also ordered compensation of €1,000 to each of Mrs Buntjens’s three adult children.

During the hearing, the three judges decided unanimously that “the nursing home had no right to refuse euthanasia on the basis of conscientious objection”.

The test case clarifies Belgian law to mean that only individual medical professionals – and not hospitals or care homes – have the right to refuse euthanasia requests.

The judgement could spell the closures of scores of Catholic-run nursing and care homes across Belgium.

This is because the Church has stated explicitly that it will not permit euthanasia “under any circumstance”.

Euthanasia pioneer Dr Wim Distelmans, a man who has been dubbed Belgium’s “Dr Death”, welcomed the judgement.

He said: “This is an important case because the judge sees the nursing home as an extension of a private home.”

Technically, euthanasia remains an offence in Belgium, with the law protecting doctors from prosecution only if they abide by carefully-set criteria.

It is limited to adults who are suffering unbearably and who are able to give their consent.

Two years ago the law was also extended to “emancipated children”.

In spite of so-called safeguards, critics have argued that the law is interpreted so liberally that euthanasia is available on demand.

Last year, a paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics reported that the majority of euthanasia cases in Belgium involve patients who are illegally “put to death” by doctors without ever giving their consent.


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