A five and one-half page article in the NY Times by Catherine Porter describes how shortly before John Shields planned to die, he planned his own Irish wake: “old fashioned with music and booze, except for one notable detail – he would be present. Then his family would take him home and he would die there in the morning, preferably in the garden… his favorite spot, rocky and wild.”
Shields, in a Vancouver hospice, suffered from a hereditary disease that caused heart stoppages, inability to use his arms and legs, numbness and excruciating pain. He qualified for Canada’s recently enacted “medical assistance in dying”.
The law allows doctors to provide a series of injections inducing sleep, coma and total paralysis causing death to adults who meet the criteria of intolerable suffering in the final stage of an irreversible medical condition, nearing death, and mentally competent to consent just before the procedure. Some strongly oppose the law, seeing it as immoral, a slippery slope of euthanasia, and a betrayal of the Hippocratic Oath. Shield’s doctor disagreed, feeling that her work was part of a continuum of care in helping people and giving them information to let them choose how to live and die.
For Shields, who valued freedom and independence, the pain of his disease was no longer tolerable; he felt that having control over his death was empowering and that dying openly and without fear could be his most important legacy. Which, as the reporter notes “was saying something” as Shields already had five lifetimes of service as a former priest, civil rights activist, children’s social worker, president of British Columbia’s biggest union, and conservationist.
Due to Shields weakened condition, some compromises were made and both the wake and his death were at the hospice. The wake was both sad and joyous, attended by a crowd of friends and colleagues, and filled with tributes and song.
The next day, in his hospice room, filled with flowers and cedar boughs, he signed the final consent forms, led the group in singing, heard the St. Francis Prayer and loving comments of friends, and after thanking everyone, said “I am ready”. Thirteen minutes after the injections, he died, quietly, quickly, and at peace.
For the complete article by Catherine Porter, see the New York Times article of 5/28/2017 here.
Those Obits: “Died” and “passed away” remain the most frequent obituary verbs, but a reader sent in a new one: “breathed her last”. We also saw some open-ended ‘in lieu of flowers’ requests to give to; “a charity of your choice”, “educate children”, “promote the arts” or “take a moment to enjoy the melody of songbirds”. One reader sent an obit of a young accident victim: “He had a big heart. He always lent a helping hand; even in death, he saved numerous lives by his wish to be an organ donor.”
A Wedding: A recent NY Times story tells of the bride who was walked down the aisle by the recipient of her father’s heart donation; the bride said “My dad is here with us and this man is here with us also because of my father’s donation”.
Hold onto your Organ Donor Card: Contrary to popular opinion, older people are not disqualified from being donors, and particularly are needed for donations to older recipients who represent a growing proportion of transplant patients.
Animal Companions from cats and dogs to turtles and snakes, if they are cremated, may now be legally buried with their owners in NY cemeteries.
NBC’s The Good Place = Heaven: Are you going to watch this comedy of life hereafter for the elite, ecologically correct, compassionate, no cursing dead? Or,
‘Chronic’: A recent review of this new movie about a palliative care worker describes it “an unflinching look at pending mortality.”
Drs. need help: The AARP reports that most doctors agree they should talk with patients on end-of-life choices, but many fail to do so because they are unsure of what to say or worried that by talking about these plans the patient will feel that the prognosis is hopeless. Perhaps it’s time for informed FCA consumers to initiate that talk and help Drs. learn to communicate on this vital topic.
Recent Vatican Cremation Rules clarify that ashes should be buried in consecrated grounds, not scattered, kept at home, or turned into jewelry or ocean reefs.
A Baker’s Dozen of Questions
Probably the answer is "yes"...if you can answer “yes” to these 13 questions:
1. Did you get a General Price List when you came?
2. Did you get a casket/outer burial price list before picking one?
3. Was there a casket for less than $500?
4. Were low cost caskets shown with dignity and no disparaging language? Was a grave liner presented?
5. Was the funeral home accepting and accommodating if you decided to buy a casket elsewhere? Was no illegal casketing fee added?
6. Did you get an itemized statement prior to the funeral/memorial?
7. If you chose cremation, did the price list clearly state that cremation charges and medical examiner's fees were – or were not - included?
8. If you wished to avoid embalming, were the options of cremation and direct burial presented clearly, respectfully?
9. Was there no charge for the first three days the body was at the funeral home/cremation service?
10. If there were “cash advance items”, (flowers, paid obituary) were you charged just for these services?
12. Were your wishes respected without subtle pressure for more expensive items or services?
13. Did the actual price equal the estimate?
Please let us know of your experiences with funeral and cremation services—how did they score, which were ethical, which were not, and where were the lapses? We can check and read the printed price lists, but only an actual consumer can report on the real sales practices.