Symposium on End of Life Care – Friday 24 June 2016

Symposium on End of Life Care – Friday June 24th, 10:30am – 1pm. 

We have two guest speakers, Professor Alex Broom and Associate Professor Odette Spruyt, talking about their respective research on end of life care within formal and informal settings. Please forward this email onto any colleagues you feel would be interested in this topic.

Alex will be giving a presentation entitled Moral Ambivalence and Informal Care for the Dying.


Caring for the dying presents perhaps the most challenging site of informal care. Participation in informal care has been prone to reification as a virtuous social practice, without adequate critical reflection as to the implications for caregivers. Here, drawing on a study of Australian carers who were providing care in the last few weeks or days of life, I propose an understanding of informal care as a morally ambiguous social practice, framed by social relations of duty, gift and virtue, but in turn encapsulating experiences of failure, shame, and suffering. Such a contradictory understanding of caregiving is critical for understanding the tensions within end-of-life settings and also for countering the concealments produced by the valorisation of informal care in modern societies. In presenting this critical analysis of informal care’s contested character, I seek to challenge a range of normative understandings that are complicit in producing moral ambivalence, shame and suffering for individual carers. Given broader structural conditions offering diminishing state resources and social conditions increasingly challenging relations of informal care, I argue for renewed critical analysis that reveals its nuanced character and that links everyday experiences to the changing social conditions within which it is produced/enacted.

Professor Alex Broom, is a Sociologist within the School of Social Sciences, the University of New South Wales. He specialises in the sociology of health and illness, with a current focus on issues related to: the intersections of individual biographies and illness experiences; lay and professional experiences of the therapeutic encounter; experiences of suffering, healing and survivorship; and, the politics and moralities of care. He has published many journal articles, book chapters and books across these topics (>200). His most recent book entitled ‘Dying: A Social Perspective on the End of Life’ (Ashgate, 2015) focuses on the social mediation of dying for individuals and their families, and across institutional and non-institutional contexts (I.e. home, hospital, hospice). He is currently working on a co-authored book with Ana Dragojlovic entitled ‘Bodies and Suffering: Emotions and Relations of Care’ (Routledge) which theorises suffering, affect and embodiment across different sites of suffering and cultural contexts. He currently convenes the ‘Health Stream’ of UNSW’s Practical Justice Initiative which focuses on health and social justice issues.

Odette’s presentation is entitled Doctor’s Encounters with Patient Suffering in End of Life Care: Getting to the Heart of the Matter.


Doctors who work in palliative care encounter suffering in their patients on a daily basis, however there has been little research into how they experience and respond to this. The term ‘suffering’ is understood as encompassing an experience of the whole person, extending far beyond physical experience. Cassell’s concept of suffering as arising from a threat to the integrity of person has been highly influential.

My work involves a cross-cultural, narrative exploration of Indian and Australian doctors’ perception of, and response to, the suffering of their palliative patients. This cross-cultural dimension allows comparison of experiences and responses in vastly different contexts and is facilitated by my connection to both worlds. The theoretical perspective which I am taking for my research is the critical nature of the intersubjective relationship between doctors and their patients in relieving suffering. The mutual, reciprocal dynamic nature of this relationship impacts upon both subjects, doctor and patient, shaping the professional and personal identity of the doctor as well as influencing the outcomes for the patient. Factors which enhance or reduce the capacity to form meaningful, healing relationship, the risks of connection or lack of connection for doctor and patient, training issues and particular role demands will be discussed.

Associate Professor Odette Spruyt, is a Palliative Medicine Specialist within the Department of Pain and Palliative Care, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Odette was director of the Department of Pain and Palliative Care (DPPC), Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre from 1997 to 2014. She has led the research activities of the DPPC and has collaborated nationally and internationally in a wide range of palliative care studies in symptom control, service development, quality improvement with a focus on pain management, end of life care and integration of palliative care into oncology, with a growing interest in qualitative research. She commenced a PhD Palliative Care, Lancaster University, in 2011. Her study is a cross cultural exploration of palliative care doctors’ perceptions and responses to patient suffering.

Date: 24th June 2016

Time: 10:30am – 1:00pm

Location: Monash University, Clayton, 20 Chancellors Walk (Menzies Building), Room E457

RSVP: 20th June 2016, book here.

Further information: Please contact Nicholas Hill at

NEXUS Seminar – Friday 27th May, 10am – 12pm

Associate Professor Catherine Mills will be giving a presentation entitled Seeing, feeling, doing: a critique of mandatory ultrasound laws. She is an ARC Future Fellow in the Centre for Human Bioethics in the School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies.


In recent years, a number of US states have adopted laws that require pregnant women to have an ultrasound examination, and be shown images of their fetus, prior to undergoing a pregnancy termination. While there is a some critical literature on such laws, there has been almost no philosophical engagement with them, and nor has there been any attempt to unpack one of the basic presumptions of such laws: that seeing one’s fetus changes the ways in which one might act in regards to it, including in terms of the (ethical) decision about whether to allow it to live or not. However, this presumption raises significant questions, specifically about the relation between visibility, emotion and ethics. In this paper I elaborate these questions and begin to address them, especially through recent philosophical literature on empathy.

Catherine has suggested two accompanying readings.

Stephenson, N., McLeod, K. & Mills, C. (forthcoming) Ambiguous encounters, uncertain foetuses: Women’s experiences of obstetric ultrasound, Feminist Review.

Slote, M. (2007) The Ethics of Care and Empathy, London: Routledge. pp. 17-20.