Health & Fitness | May 26, 2017 5:00 am

Man Celebrates Life at His Own ‘Irish Wake’ Before Medically Assisted Death

Former Catholic priest 'choreographs' his own final days with moving rituals.

Man Chooses to Die, But Not Before Showing Up at His Own Irish Wake
(BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)

How do you imagine you’ll go? Quietly in your sleep, or after a weeklong battle? Who will be there for your last breaths? And will they know what to do with your lifeless body once the time comes?

Former Catholic priest, social worker, activist and author John Shields had no such questions as he planned it all out in advance. The last chapter of his story is chronicled in gripping profile by Catherine Porter for The New York Times.

Shields was suffering from a rare, incurable disease—amyloidosis—which affects the heart and causes painful nerve damage in his arms and legs. And Canada, where Shields lived out the last years of his life, had recently legalized “medical assistance in dying” for those patients who were suffering as acutely as Shields. So he took the opportunity to go on his own terms.

He basically scheduled his own “Irish Wake”—but with him present. A room in the hospice, where he had been spending the last days of his life, was made into a takeout buffet of his choosing: chicken and gravy from the restaurant he used to eat every Friday evening as a young priest.

As the time ticked down to his appointed hour the next day, Shields even planned out the rituals after his death, including where he would be laid to rest in his garden for two days following his lethal injection.

Reading the profile inspires both tears and debate on this side of the 49th Parallel.