A religious order that serves people with mental health problems has announced that it will allow euthanasia in its hospitals in Belgium.

The Brothers of Charity was founded in Belgium in 1807 by Canon Peter Joseph Triest, known as the St Vincent de Paul of Belgium, and is now present in 30 countries.

The decision was taken by the board which controls institutions run by the order. They announced the decision on the website of the order’s Belgian branch; it was reported by the Australian-based website bioedge.org, which covers bioethical issues.

“We take seriously unbearable and hopeless suffering and patients’ request for euthanasia. On the other hand, we do want to protect lives and ensure that euthanasia is performed only if there is no more possibility to provide a reasonable perspective to treat the patient,” the statement said.

The Catholic charity is responsible for about 5,000 beds for psychiatric patients in Belgium, where euthanasia has been legal since 2002.

The statement said: “In our facilities we respect the freedom of doctors to decide whether or not to perform euthanasia and the freedom of other care-givers to choose whether or not to work on. This freedom is guaranteed by law.”

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