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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Refusal of funeral for assisted suicide man

A Catholic priest in the Netherlands has refused to allow a funeral in his church for a parishioner who opted to die by assisted suicide.

Fr Norbert van der Sluis of Liempde, north of Eindhoven, said he was not willing to conduct the funeral service after his elderly parishioner, who was terminally ill, decided to end his life through assisted suicide, which is legal inHolland.

This is the first time a Dutch priest has openly adopted this stance, which has already divided his parish and the Netherlands itself. Almost 3,000 people a year choose to end their lives by strictly regulated, physician-assisted euthanasia in the country.

Fr van der Sluis said that according to guidelines issued by the Dutch bishops, anyone who opted for euthanasia was not entitled to a church funeral. Nor was he willing, he told the dead man’s family, to arrange for a colleague to conduct the service. “As a matter of conscience I cannot allow a fellow priest to say the funeral Mass in my church.”

Such was the reaction from the public to the priest’s stance that even his own church council has turned against him. They have demanded he apologise to the man’s family and have halted a fundraising campaign for the church. The family said they have arranged to have the funeral service held in another parish.

Euthanasia was legalised in the Netherlands by the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act 2002, and since then demand has risen significantly – from 1,886 cases in 2004 to 2,600 in 2009, the last year for which statistics are available.

Published Fri, 02 Sep 2011