Wednesday, 8 December 2021

I wish I could have eased dad’s suffering


Source: The Times, 08.12.2021

It has been almost a year since I lost my dad, Aristotelis. He died in Athens, Greece, four days before Christmas, aged 76. I had moved to Ireland five years earlier and couldn’t travel home to see him or attend his funeral due to Covid-19 restrictions. Like Ireland, voluntary assistance in death is illegal in Greece. If it was permitted in Ireland I would have brought him here to die. In my mind, dad died when he became bedridden, 16 months before he took his last breath.

My dad studied chemistry and economics at the University of Athens and went on to work in the textile industry. In the later stages in his career, he researched how to make fabrics more UV-radiation protective, the system for rating clothes now known as the Ultraviolet Protection Factor.

Dad inspired me in many ways. He taught me to be practical and always to look at the bigger picture. I owe to him my disposition for applied research, which led me to pursue a career in academia.

Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013. We knew what was coming; we knew that at some point he would not be able to eat, to move, to breathe. The summer of 2018 was the last time I was able to spend quality time with him. By the following year dad couldn’t walk down the stairs of his second storey apartment. It was a downward spiral from there.

By September 2019 dad was bedridden and cared for full time by a live-in nurse. He couldn’t swallow. His medicine was crushed up and delivered with his food through a stomach peg. He had a catheter and wore a nappy. On the good days he could say one or two words, or smile.

On New Year’s Day last year I showed dad photos of the fireworks in Limerick. He said: “Wow, this is impressive.” The next day he couldn’t speak. Soon after, there was no communication at all. I could still hug him, hold his hands and talk to him, although I do not know if he could understand me. He couldn’t express himself, he couldn’t tell us how he felt.

It was very hard, especially in the last four months as dad’s oxygen levels were dropping. We couldn’t do anything; we could only watch him die slowly. If I could have eased his suffering earlier I would have. He had a long fight and there was no quality of life for him. When he passed away it was a relief — for him from the suffering and for us watching him die. It wasn’t a decent death.

We need to show more empathy to people who have terminal or degenerative illnesses. We need to have legislation in place so that people can make the choice to die with dignity. I’m not sure if my dad would have chosen medical assistance to die, but I think everyone should have the right to choose.

Dad loved travelling, dancing and soccer. When he retired, he moved to the village of Styra in Southern Evia where he joined a local dance society that he would attend three times a week. Every summer he would dance in the local festival.

When I travel with my sons or we watch soccer matches together, I feel closer to dad. These are the things we shared in the good days. That’s how I try to remember him. Not the way that he died.

Dr Ioannis Zabetakis, head of the biological sciences department at the University of Limerick, backs the Times and Sunday Times campaign to legalise assisted dying

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