End-of-life options: the personal is political

At the forthcoming Communities in Control conference, Andrew Denton will deliver the 2017 Joan Kirner Social Justice Oration, in conversation with Virginia Trioli, on the topic of options at the end of life.

I couldn't be more pleased. It's exactly the kind of spearpoint discourse that the conference is about, and it will feed directly into the Victorian Parliament's consideration of a Bill on assisted dying later in the year.

I've already had some pushback, however, summed up in this email: "As you have Andrew Denton as a speaker, have you also asked someone against euthanasia to speak at the conference?"

It's a reasonable question, and it deserves an honest answer.

Our Community isn't a government agency like the ABC, or a charity like Greenpeace. We're a social enterprise - a business, but with values. We set it up that way specifically because we wanted to have the freedom to advocate for those values without fretting about whether we'd stepped over the line. As a business, all we have to worry about is government ministers telling us to stick to our knitting. And all we have to do there is point out that it's our knitting and we can make any flag we like out of it. Our Community doesn't have an ideology, but we're not neutral.

We're not trying to ram our opinions down anybody's throat, particularly not about something as sensitive as this. Families who find themselves stumbling through the painful last days of life of people they love deeply deserve reasoned and sympathetic discourse, not propaganda.

I know, because I've lived it. I believe that the personal is political, and that insights arise from the experiences of our lives rather than from abstract theories.

I have immense respect for Andrew's intellectual capacity. I have every expectation that Virginia will make sure he covers the tough questions sensitively. And there'll be questions from the audience - from you.

These are wickedly difficult issues, affecting us all. Many of us already know what it's like to negotiate the mazes of palliative care and medical futility. When my mother was running the final gauntlet I wanted to be able to do more, and to know more. Our Community is trying to open the issue up to the community so that people in this situation aren't left, as she was, with no good options.

In the end, it's about values. We want to be at the forefront of a progressive society - one with communities in control. Every year since we started the Communities in Control conference back in 2003, we've pushed the boundaries of civil sector discourse and given a hearing to alternative views, trying to reflect contemporary society in all its colour and diversity.

We bring in thought-provoking speakers, like Andrew and Virginia, and we challenge them. It's because we're not afraid to tackle the difficult issues that the Communities in Control movement is such a powerful annual thinkfest.

We want to move the debate forward. We've asked every Victorian parliamentarian to come along to take the community's pulse. You ought to be in the room.

Communities in Control 2017 takes place in Melbourne on May 29-30.

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