Pope Francis has given a Belgian religious order until the end of August to stop offering euthanasia to psychiatric patients.

Brother René Stockman, superior general of the order, said that the Pope gave his personal approval to a Vatican demand that the Brothers of Charity, which runs 15 centres for psychiatric patients across Belgium, must reverse its policy by the end of August.

Brothers who serve on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group, the organisation that runs the centres, must each sign a joint letter to their superior general declaring that they “fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end”.

Brothers who refuse to sign will face sanctions under canon law, while the group can expect to face legal action and even expulsion from the Church if it fails to change its policy.

The group, Brother Stockman added, must not consider euthanasia as a solution to human suffering under any circumstances.

The order, issued at the beginning of August, follows repeated requests for the group to drop its new policy of permitting doctors to perform the euthanasia of “non-terminal” mentally ill patients on its premises.

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