The Right to Die In Peace

Author: Shorena Tkeshelashvili


For Rusudan and Ana, death is a daily reality. From morning till night, the 46 and 29 year old nurses support terminally ill people to cope with the pain, in their bodies and souls.

The palliative care facility, housed in a small building on a side street in uptown Tbilisi and run by the sisters of the charity of the Convent of Transfiguration of Jesus, opened in 2003 - at a time when few in Georgia knew what palliative care was.

Decades on, little has changed - people in need, both patients and their families, are left alone due to lack of awareness, funding, and public interest. There are no updated statistics to define the scope of the problem, and act accordingly. The most recent data, from 2008, set at 45 the number of health facilities  across the country providing some palliative care, ranging from a few dedicated beds to home support with mobile teams, while full-time facilities are in short supply, along with specialized staff. Nurses and doctors work on relieving patient’s physical pain, providing psychological support to both patients and relatives, and helping families to look after their sick beloved at home. The lack of professional staff is another thorn - there are only 40 professionals officially certified.

Dimitri Kordzaia, founder of the Georgian National Association of Palliative Care, laments about a lack of interest from the authorities which translates into a chronic shortage of funding that international donors like the Global Fund try to fill in. Hospices like the six-bed where Rusudan and Ana work rely on donations.

Today around 1,500 people in Georgia, maintains Kordzaia, are in need of intensive palliative care - that is, hospices like the Convent of Transfiguration’s. In 2011 Kordzaia, who teaches clinical anatomy and operative surgery at Tbilisi State University, authored the country action plan through 2015 for palliative care - it got only partially adopted and the estimated GEL3 million ($ 1.5 million) which would have covered Georgia’s needs (based on the 2008 figures) was not allocated.