Pope Francis has intervened to prevent Belgian clinics run by Roman Catholic institutions from offering euthanasia to psychiatric patients.
Specifically, the order from the Pope refers to the Belgian Brothers of Charity, which runs 15 psychiatric institutions.
Euthanasia was legalized in Belgium in 2002, in spite of the country's strongly Catholic heritage and protests from the Church. The charity said in a statement that euthanasia would only be performed if there were 'no reasonable treatment alternatives and that such requests would be considered with 'the greatest caution'.
Until June this year, the Brothers of Charity had refused to allow patients to consider euthanasia. Then, it is reported that a change of policy was implemented. That has worried the Vatican to such an extent that brothers who work for the organization are now being required to sign a letter saying they will uphold Church teaching on the sanctity of life.
If they refuse to sign the letter, they will face action under Church law.
Although the case is being handled by Vatican bodies rather than directly by the Pope, he is aware of the ongoing dispute. 'The Holy Father was formally informed about it and was also informed about the steps to be taken,' a spokesperson told the Catholic Herald.
Euthanasia in Belgium is not only available for the terminally ill, making the country a common talking point for advocates and opponents of assisted suicide in the US and UK.
There was an outcry in 2016 when, under a newly liberalized part of the law, the first terminally ill child was euthanized.