What do we want? A great life & a 'good' death: first end-of-life conference asks how.
Philosopher Peter Singer heads a line-up of bioethicists, law scholars and legal and health practitioners from around the world who will speak at the first International Conference on End of Life in August, at QUT's Australian Centre for Health Law Research.
Conference speakers will address a variety of emerging ethical issues in the fields of organ donation and palliative care as well as shed new light on established debates such as assisted dying and when life-saving treatment can be stopped, QUT Australian Centre for Health Law Research director Professor Ben White said.
"We don't talk about death much in our society but advances in technology, ageing populations and the wish to die with dignity make these conversations critical," he said.
"Moral philosopher Peter Singer will debate Charles Camosy, who's a Christian ethicist at Fordham University in the US, to open the conference on 13 August. Professor Camosy has debated with Professor Singer on their divergent views on euthanasia and end-of-life issues on several occasions."
Professor White said advances in medicine brought up ethical dilemmas such as whether a potential donor could be given drugs that would help the organs to be in better condition for the recipient, and issues about managing the timing of death through withdrawal of treatment to allow organ donation to happen.
"There is also a debate around how we determine death," he said.
"Dr Dale Gardiner, deputy national clinical leader for organ donation for NHS Blood and Transplant in the UK, will trace the history of this field and ask when someone is legally dead so that their organs can be donated.
"Professor Sheila McLean, an international leader in health law and bioethics at Glasgow University, is presenting on the practice of terminal sedation - providing sedation for a dying patient whose pain can't otherwise be managed until they die."
Professor White said some regard this as good palliative care but others claimed it was essentially euthanasia, especially when artificial nutrition and water were withheld at the same time.
Professor White said speakers would also include clinicians who were at the coalface of end-of-life decision-making.
The program includes leading intensive and palliative care specialists, Dr Peter Saul and Dr Michael Ashby, who will discuss how we die in Australia in the 21st century.
"This conference draws together internationally renowned speakers from law, medicine and philosophy to tackle the big issues that society faces in providing high quality end of life care."
The conference is hosted with leading health law centres in Canada (Dalhousie Health Law Institute) and China (Tsinghua Health Law Research Center).
The International Conference on End of Life: Law, Ethics, Policy and Practice will be held at QUT's Gardens Point Campus from 13-15 August 2014.