Adding legal instruments to the cancer toolkit

Tuesday 12 May, 2020

McCabe Centre staff

Photo: Staff from McCabe Centre for Law & Cancer 

Adding legal instruments to the cancer toolkit

The world of laws and legal procedures may seem far removed from the hospitals and health centres where cancer is treated.

But lawyers at the McCabe Centre for Law & Cancer know that – when harnessed correctly – law can be a powerful tool to address cancer.

“Law intersects with cancer at every stage, from the public health policies that keep people healthy to the legal protections that ensure their access to treatment,” says Hayley Jones, a lawyer and Acting Director of the McCabe Centre. 

Hayley Jones

Photo caption: Hayley Jones,  lawyer and Acting Director of the McCabe Centre.

“Legal measures can help support people with cancer, their families, and health professionals, leading to better health outcomes.”

Established eight years ago, the McCabe Centre is a joint initiative of Cancer Council Victoria, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) in Geneva, Switzerland, and Cancer Council Australia. It is a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre and the only organisation of its kind in the world aiming to use law to prevent and control cancer and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

With a legal staff based in Australia, Fiji, Kenya, and the Philippines, and an alumni network of 200 government lawyers and policymakers in 70 low- and-middle income countries, the McCabe Centre focuses on addressing cancer in Australia and around the world from various angles.

Preventing cancer and other NCDs

Since one of the best ways to mitigate the impact of cancer is to stop people from getting it in the first place, the McCabe Centre seek to prevent cancer by:

Protecting the rights of people affected

A cancer diagnosis raises difficult questions about a person’s health, but it can also raise unforeseen issues about rights. The McCabe Centre works with colleagues at Cancer Council to identify and address gaps in domestic laws to better protect the rights of people affected by cancer, including by:

Protecting access to treatment

No one should have to worry about whether they can access the cancer treatment and support they need. The McCabe Centre uses law to help break down barriers to access, including by:

Working together across sectors

While law is an important piece of global efforts to address cancer, no one sector can have an impact on its own. That’s why the McCabe Centre works with government representatives, civil society groups, health professionals, and people affected by cancer to identify areas where law can make a difference.

“As lawyers, we’ll never perform a life-saving surgery or develop a breakthrough treatment,” Hayley says. “But by working in partnership, we can be champions for evidence-based laws which protect and ensure public health and safety.”


To learn more about the McCabe Centre’s work and its impact on health professionals and patients, visit or subscribe to updates.