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Sep 13, 12:36 PM EDT

Belgian order defies pope, insists on allowing euthanasia



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VATICAN CITY (AP) -- A Belgian religious congregation is defying Pope Francis' order to stop allowing euthanasia in its psychiatric hospitals, saying that its decision to do so is fully consistent with Catholic doctrine.

In a statement Tuesday, the Belgian branch of the Brothers of Charity stood by its decision and said negotiations with church officials to resolve the standoff hadn't yielded results. It said it was open to further dialogue, but stressed it merely wanted to explain itself.

In May, the Brothers of Charity announced it would allow doctors to perform euthanasia at its 15 psychiatric hospitals in Belgium, one of only two countries - along with the Netherlands - where doctors are legally allowed to kill people with mental health problems, at their request.

To qualify, people must be in a state of "unbearable suffering," and euthanasia would only be performed if there were "no reasonable treatment alternatives," the order said. Requests would be considered with "the greatest caution" and be evaluated by at least three doctors.

The Holy See launched an investigation into the decision, which was made by the group's lay board of directors, since Catholic Church teaching forbids euthanasia. In August, the Vatican ordered the group to stop offering euthanasia and gave the members one month to comply.

The Belgian order's administrative headquarters in Rome concurred, saying euthanasia "goes against the basic principles" of the Catholic Church. The order's superior, Brother Rene Stockman, asked the Belgian religious brothers who were members of the board to write a formal letter declaring their adherence to church doctrine on the need to respect life from conception until natural death. And the Vatican gave him authority to take "necessary legal steps" to resolve the situation and improve the Catholic "identity" of the order's hospitals.

But in its statement Tuesday, the Belgian branch said it "emphatically" believes that its decision to allow euthanasia is consistent with Catholic doctrine.

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