Social workers face up to fears and concerns of end-of-life issues

Published:05 November 2019

TOP: From left to right seated – Bronwyn Dendle, Qld Health; Paloma Cesare, CQU. From left to right standing – Ruth Griese, ACT4Kids; Keith Ung, headspace; Phillip Capra, Qld Health; Maggie Dickson, Qld Health; Sophia Mackenzie, headspace. MID: Professor Colleen Cartwright, visiting from Southern Cross University. BELOW: Some of the participants in the audience.

End-of-life issues are among the most confronting imaginable but Central Queensland social workers faced them head on recently, during their annual forum hosted by CQUniversity Rockhampton North Campus.

A visiting expert on dying with dignity, Professor Colleen Cartwright of Southern Cross University discussed carers’ stories and misconceptions about what qualifies as euthanasia.

Issues around a person’s capacity to make decisions on treatment, and who can consent to or refuse treatment for an adult who has lost capacity, were explored through case studies and a role-play session.

The forum coordinator, CQUni lecturer, Paloma Cesare says Advance Care Planning (ACP) can help to address fears and concerns.

“Professor Cartwright’s presentation outlined what ACP is, the legal mechanisms for ACP in Queensland, the barriers to and benefits of ACP and the priority order for substitute decision-making in Queensland.

“We also addressed the issue of Voluntary Assisted Dying and the new Victorian law, finishing by asking ‘What will you do if VAD becomes legal in Queensland?

“We discussed the need for social workers to be patient advocates, especially relating to the adequacy of pain relief in terminal illness.

“This was followed by an interactive session where participants were asked to think about their own Advance Care Planning.”

Ms Cesare says forum participants joined a yarning circle with Indigenous social worker Candice Butler to discuss truth-telling, calls for an Indigenous ‘Voice’ and treaties with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“We had an introduction to compassionate listening through peer-supported open dialogue, with a person with lived experience of mental health services, Cherie McGregor, and a psychiatric nurse academic, Jennifer Mulvogue.

Another session drew on experiences from headspace, focusing on various tools and techniques that can be blended and integrated into a social work counselling practice with young people who have anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.”

The forum also heard from two Biloela-based social workers who have been at the forefront of advocating for the rights of the Tamil family facing deportation from Australia.