Law and cancer: research and implications for clinical practice

Tuesday 27 October, 2015

In November the Clinical Network in collaboration with the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer held a symposium - Law and Cancer: research and implications for clinical practice.  This was held at the Town Hall in Melbourne and facilitated by Bill O'Shea, lawyer and radio contributor (previous General Counsel of Alfred Health).

The law is not always straightforward, nor well understood. The symposium aimed to discuss the law in practice as it relates to the delivery of patient care, including the legal frameworks governing informed consent, medical negligence and end of life decision-making. It offered recent research findings and aimed to clarify the law, patients' rights and clinicians' responsibilities in these areas.


 Following the presentations was a robust panel and Q&A discussion of a patient case study, exploring when and how the law intersects in providing patient care. The panel consisted of representatives from the legal and oncology sectors:   

  • A/Prof Ian Haines, Senior Medical Oncologist & Palliative Care Physician, Cabrini Health
  • Neill Murdoch, QC, Melbourne 
  • Ms Meron Pitcher, Unit Head of Surgery, Western Health (Sunshine Hospital)
  • A/Prof Natasha Michael, Director of Palliative Medicine, Cabrini Health 
  • Professor Ben White, Director of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) 

  panel opening


Professor Ben White, Director of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). 

Ben has published extensively in the area of health law, with a particular focus on end of life decision-making and guardianship law. Ben graduated with first class Honours and a University Medal in Law from the Queensland University of Technology. He won a Rhodes Scholarship to complete a DPhil at Oxford University, where his doctoral thesis investigated the role that consultation plays in the law reform process. Before joining the Law School, he worked as an associate at the Supreme Court and at Legal Aid Queensland. Between 2005 and 2007, Ben was appointed as the full-time Commissioner of the Queensland Law Reform Commission where he had carriage of the Guardianship Review on behalf of the Commission. He also served as a part-time Commissioner between 2007 and 2010. He is presently undertaking three ARC funded studies examining law at the end of life. Ben teaches health law at undergraduate and postgraduate level and also supervises a number of PhD students in this area. He is currently a committee member of the Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law.

Dr Deborah Lawson, Legal Policy Advisor, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer

Deborah Lawson is a legal policy advisor for the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer (Cancer Council Victoria/ Union for International Cancer Control). Her work examines how the law impacts on and can be used to improve experiences and outcomes for people affected by cancer and their carers. She is a partner investigator on an ARC Linkage Grant project called Enhancing Community Knowledge and Engagement with Law at the End of Life (with the QUT Australian Centre for Health Law Research, UQ and Cancer Councils Victoria, NSW and Queensland). Deborah has undergraduate degrees in law and philosophy from the University of Otago. Supported by a University of Otago postgraduate award and other scholarships, she completed a PhD in law in 2009, which focused on child abuse reporting laws and practice. Her findings have been published in the International Journal of Children's Rights. Deborah has previously practised as a lawyer in Auckland, and has worked as a Research Fellow on a New Zealand Law Foundation-sponsored project examining the regulatory implications of genetic testing of children and young people. Since arriving in Melbourne in 2007 Deborah has worked in youth disability advocacy, refugee and migrant youth policy and as a lecturer at Victoria University and ACU. 

Facilitator: Bill O'Shea is General Counsel, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Bill was Alfred Health's first General Counsel from October 2003 until July 2015. Prior to joining Alfred Health he was managing partner and head of the Commercial Law Practice Group of national law firm Hunt & Hunt. He was President of the Law Institute of Victoria in 2003 and a member of the LIV Council for 7 years. He is a Governor of College of Law Limited and chairs the College of Law Victoria Chapter Board. Prior to studying law he was a Ministerial Adviser and speechwriter to the then Premier of Victoria and before that, a teacher of secondary school mathematics.
He chairs AMREP AS Pty Ltd and is a board member of Nucleus Network Limited, the clinical trials subsidiary of Baker IDI.
Bill and Alfred psychiatrist Dr Steve Ellen have a weekly one hour radio segment on medical and legal issues every Tuesday night on 774 ABC Melbourne's evening show with Lindy Burns.


panel - case study