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International: Belgian death wish

August 2016

Catholic care home St Augustine has been fined for refusing euthanasia to one of its residents.

The rest home, in Diest, Belgium, operates a strict pro-life policy. However, when it prevented doctors from giving a lethal injection to Mariette Buntjens, a 74-year-old woman suffering from lung cancer, it was fined 6,000 euros.

According to reports from Christian Concern, the rest home was fined for causing the woman ‘unnecessary mental and physical suffering’, after the family sued St Augustine.

Despite the woman passing away naturally ‘in peaceful surroundings’, the family’s complaint was upheld in a civil court in Louvain. The judges ruled, ‘The nursing home had no right to refuse euthanasia on the basis of conscientious objection’. The home was fined 3,000 euros, and each of Buntjens’ three adult children received 1,000 euros in compensation.

The fine came as a result of Belgium’s law, which does not allow anyone other than individual medical professionals to refuse euthanasia requests.

According to Christian Concern, this decision has caused concerns that other Catholic nursing homes across Belgium could end up on the wrong side of the law and even being forced to close.

Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2003, and now has one of the most liberal approaches in the world to the procedure. In 2014, euthanasia was legalised for children of any age and is available to people who describe themselves as having ‘unbearable psychological suffering’.

The number of people to die by euthanasia in Belgium has more than doubled in the last five years, with more than 2,000 people ending their lives this way last year.

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