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Dan Treecraft and Crossing the Line of Death
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Article ID: 14146
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: October 24th. 2010
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Dan Treecraft is a 70-something year old gentleman who is dying of tongue cancer. He lives here in the Spokane area. Mr. Treecraft made his moving story available to the public when he was interviewed by our local newspaper, telling the community in a full length 2-page article of his struggles with chronic pain caused by his condition, of his wife’s struggle to accept his imminent death, as she will soon be left behind by his passing, and of those others who have been touched by his work, which was working with plants and trees.
You see, Mr. Treecraft made a decision that when the pain becomes too much to bear, he plans to bring about his own passing by inhaling nitrogen gas, which should be a quick, effective, relatively painless, and inexpensive way to facilitate his death. His doctor notified him of the options for treatment of this cancer with the usual currently available modalities of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, but the prognosis was still poor. So Mr. Treecraft, with his faculties fully intact, and with the knowledge and love of his family (if not their full support) , made his decision.
As you can expect, since this story went public, folks started writing to the newspaper editor to put in their 2 cents’ worth about Mr. Treecraft’s decision. One wrote in, stating, “nobody REALLY knows what happens to us after we die… It is up to each of us to make the choice, without censor from others, as to how we get to the place where we might learn (the answer of what happens to our heart/spirit/soul when we die) .”
Just below that supportive letter was another letter with a different take on Mr. Treecraft’s decision written by a Christian. He asks, “Did not our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ choose crucifixion so as to redeem our fallen nature and inspire us to embrace suffering rather than reject it? The Fifth Commandment instructs us not to kill; surely one should never murder oneself lest he be liable unto severe and eternal judgment.”
Mercifully bracketing in the Christian’s letter, as if to shield Mr. Treecraft from the eternal damnation, the editor was kind enough to publish another letter just below that one. In this third letter, a personal acquaintance of Mr. Treecraft writes in to remember him, saying, “I was so sorry to read about Dan Treecraft.” She goes on to describe how Mr. Treecraft helped her to nurse her corkscrew willow tree, which was afflicted with a fatal case of canker. She closes the letter saying, “I wish him a good journey, whatever he decides.”
Three days later, the newspaper published an “editorial page forum” in which another Christian states to Mr. Treecraft that he should consider Jesus’ words on how one’s life should end.
Mr. Treecraft wrote the editor just a few days later to rebut this “forum”, asking, “what words does (the author’s) ‘historical Jesus’ utter to persuade anyone to passively suffer pain- without recourse to merciful deliverance? Does Jesus actually address suicide?… And, why does any of this concern a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Jew, an animist, or an atheist like me?”
Well, with apologies to Mr. Treecraft for putting his story out with another “opinion” one more time, here’s one Pagan doctor’s point of view. It has come to no surprise to me that over the course of my medical career everyone apparently dies. I know some radical religious fundamentalists may be shocked by this fact, but it is just that—a fact.
We all will die.
So why is it anyone’s concern to try to sway Mr. Treecraft away from his chosen course—one that he has obviously thought out very carefully (and painfully I might add) ? I guess in fairness, just allowing his story to be published in the newspaper was inviting everyone (me included—sorry again, Mr. Treecraft!!) to make it his or her business. Having said that, I think Mr. Treecraft in his last few months on this world was giving us a gift. A mirror into the heart of one who is dying, and facing that death with—in my opinion—great courage! Mr. Treecraft’s story reminds us that we will all be there to face death sooner or later. What would others write in their letter to the editor about us in our dying days? How will our energies in this life be made manifest in the world after our passing? And how will our Spirit become manifest in the world beyond? If you believe in karma, as I do, these are serious questions to be asking of ourselves as we approach the final harvest.
The world is becoming smaller proportional to the Earth’s population, and humanity’s footprint upon her is getting bigger. As the internet links us to others around the globe, and the media provides us with a constant barrage of news and gossip from all over, and we have the virtually infinite power of a soapbox (as I am demonstrating right now) , it is becoming increasingly apparent that a cultural war is being waged. I made my decision about what my place in that conflict will be (with thanks to the guidance of Kerr Cuhulain, the author of “Wiccan Warrior” and other excellent Pagan books) .
Please do not misconstrue my words—I am a peace-loving Druid, and my work is wholly dedicated to healing and health maintenance. I have no desire to kill. But I do have a strong sense of justice, and this now brings me back to Mr. Treecraft. There are many out there—and they might be my next-door neighbors!—who would dictate to us the manner in which we are allowed to die.
The sheer arrogance of that sort of dualistic dogma gives me chills inside. As a physician, I have treatments that I am able to offer for various ailments, and I am happy to provide my patients and their families a point of view on how best to approach the treatment options provided. But to dictate to a man afflicted by advanced cancer how he should die is intolerable.
OK, the Christians who wrote in did NOT dictate to Mr. Treecraft how he should die. Rather, they employed the much more insidious device of moral coercion by suggesting that his soul will burn in the flames of their hell for all eternity. Oh, ouch!
Modern medicine can afford us with the ability to provide breathing support for those whose lungs are failing. We can provide dialysis support for those whose kidneys are failing. We can feed people with nutritional formulas into their stomach or duodenum who are unable to eat, or even provide nutritional support directly into their veins. We can infuse people whose heart is severely weakened with medications that will make the heart pump harder. And more recently, we have learned how to provide mechanical circulatory support by drawing the blood out and pumping it back into the body when the heart has failed completely.
For those in pain, we have many medications to treat that. One of the oldest herbal pain remedies, morphine, derived from the poppy plant, is still used all the time to lessen or eliminate pain altogether. Now we have numerous synthetic morphine derivatives that can be used in different situations and for various indications. In fact, modern chemistry has provided us with newer synthetic antidepressants that are effective in treating chronic pain.
As a physician, I have seen all of these treatments used very effectively in their time, especially when used in the proper clinical setting, and for the right indications. But when it becomes clear that these treatments have little or nothing to offer a dying man, who in their right man would push them on him?
I wonder if those who wrote in for concern of Dan Treecraft’s soul would recommend that he should have radiation therapy, or that his end-of-life care regimen include mechanical ventilation for his breathing when the tumor completely obstructs his airway, or dialysis should he get so dehydrated during his illness from inability to drink enough fluids that his kidneys fail. I wonder if they are recommending narcotics to treat his pain, so that he can bear living a little longer without having to commit suicide.
Well, I suppose their concern is probably more for preserving Mr. Treecraft’s soul. They are assuming that their dualistic faith is the truth, with no wiggle room for other truths. And I’m sure they understand that each of these miracles of modern medicine have their place, and aren’t necessarily indicated for Mr. Treecraft. What choices will they make when their time comes? Will they be more courageous if they “fight” cancer, or take narcotics for pain, or accept invasive treatments to help them live a bit longer?
You see, there’s a line you cross when you take it too far. It depends on the circumstances of course. But isn’t that the same moral relativism that fundamentalists rail against in their propaganda machine?
How thick is the line we cross when we die?
It is my view that when we do come to the final harvest, we will be remembered for the things we have done in life, for the beauty we brought into the world through our actions and deeds, for our service to Mother Earth and all her inhabitants.
So here is my tribute to you, Mr. Dan Treecraft. It is clear to me from everything I read about you that you have done much good in your lifetime, and you will be well-remembered! May you receive peace in knowing that you harmed no one in your decision, and that you took on the responsibility for how you will pass. May your passing be peaceful, and in your pain, may you receive the comfort of those who love you! I wish I had met you in person.
May none be harmed by these words. Blessed be!
Location: Spokane Valley, Washington
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