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‘Who gets to decide when I die?’ a Thursday Night Live conversation


Sharlene King
6 June 2018

Death is not a topic we take lightly and dying is not often a part of our daily conversations, let alone discussing who gets to decide when we die. Yet this is exactly the conversation that will be had at the next Thursday Night Live! event on June 14 at Lismore Regional Gallery.

Zenith Virago, a respected deathwalker and celebrant, will lead a team of panellists – including the creator of the Advance Care Directive and an expert in LGBTIQ aged care – to explore the provocation, ‘Who gets to decide when I die? Approaching our end of life with informed choices’.

Presented by the Lismore Regional Gallery and Southern Cross University, Thursday Night Live! is a monthly talks program putting critical, thought-provoking topics in the spotlight.

“We wanted to create something different with Thursday Night Live! It’s a lively forum for discussing ideas and issues relevant to our region and for having those conversations we weren’t having before,” Lismore Regional Gallery Director, Brett Adlington said.

“This thought-provoking and exciting talks program is designed to make us think and question, by bringing together diverse perspectives on contemporary challenging topics.”

Southern Cross University academics Professor Colleen Cartwright and Professor Mark Hughes are two of the panellists.

Professor Colleen Cartwright is an expert in advance care planning and patient advocacy.

“While many people in NSW support a change in legislation to allow assisted dying, which recently happened in Victoria, not many people really understand what is currently legally available to a terminally ill person in this state,” said Professor Cartwright. 

“Advance Care Planning can help ensure your wishes at the end of life are respected, that you will receive adequate pain relief and that you won’t receive invasive treatment that you don’t want. Knowledge is power!”

A former social worker in community health, aged care and mental health settings, Professor Mark Hughes these days researches the ageing experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people.

“Advance Care Planning is particularly important for LGBTIQ people to ensure that same-sex partners and nominated family or friends are not excluded from end-of-life decision making,” Professor Hughes said.

“Unfortunately not all health care providers are aware of the diversity of LGBTIQ people’s relationships and support networks and sometimes make assumptions that biological family members’ views should be pre-eminent.

“So we need to support health care providers to be more upfront with their clients about both end-of-life issues and gender and sexual diversity so that people’s situations and needs can be responded to in a respectful way.”

Panellist/facilitator biographies:

Zenith Virago, a pioneer and respected Deathwalker for over 25 years, has lived and grown in Byron Bay for over 30 years. Zenith has a deep love and gratitude for the wonderful mystery of which we are all a part. She is the founder, executive officer and Deathwalker Trainer for the Natural Death Care Centre, a small Byron Bay-based charity. As a Deathwalker, Guide and Celebrant, Zenith stands as an elder, pioneer and expert in the field of holistic death, dying and ceremonies of all sorts. Zenith provides care, information and guidance to assist people through the natural and the sacred, the inner and outer journeying as welcome to the end of life and into death or bereavement.

Professor Colleen Cartwright is Emeritus Professor and Chair of the Human Research Ethics Committee at Southern Cross University, and Principal Director of Cartwright Consulting Australia. She has extensive teaching and research experience in ageing, ethics and medical decisions at the end of life, at national and international levels, with publications in major journals and several book chapters. Professor Cartwright designed the Advance Health Directive and Enduring Power of Attorney documents that are part of the Queensland legislation and amended those to suit NSW legislative provisions. She also assisted with the development and implementation of the Qld Powers of Attorney Act 1998. Her recent research has focused on: what doctors in Qld, NSW and Victoria know about the law in relation to who can consent to withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining technology from adults who lack capacity; community-based palliative care in Tasmania; and the benefits of telehealth to increase access to services, including for older Aboriginal people.

Colleen regularly runs information and training sessions for community and health professional groups on ethical and legal issues relating to care at the end of life, including advance care planning, what is/is not euthanasia, informed consent and capacity, with particular focus on the special needs of people with dementia and their carers. In 2016, she was a guest panellist on the ABC television program The Moral Compass, which explored ‘What is a good death?’ She can be heard on ABC Mid North Coast each Monday fortnight morning discussing advance care planning and taking questions from listeners.

Mark Hughes is Professor of Social Work and Chair of Academic Board at Southern Cross University. He has worked as a social worker in community health, aged care and mental health settings and has previously worked at the University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales and Goldsmiths College London. Mark’s teaching and research expertise centres on the organisational dimensions of social work practice, aged care policy and service delivery, and the ageing experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people. He is a Chief Investigator on an Australian Research Council Discovery Project on the production, use and impact of social work research, as well as a Linkage Project on reducing the health disparities faced by older LGBTIQ Australians. He is currently developing research on addressing gay and bisexual men’s experience of loneliness. Mark is a former editor of the journal, Australian Social Work, and in 2015 was Visiting Professor with the Centre for Research on Ageing and Gender at the University of Surrey.


Thursday Night Live!

Thursday June 14 at 6pm – 7.30pm. Free event.

Lismore Regional Gallery, 11 Rural Street Lismore, NSW

* This is an Auslan Interpreted event

* This is a wheelchair accessible event


Thursday Night Live! is presented by Lismore Regional Gallery and Southern Cross University.