Dr Kirsten McKillop


Dr Kirsten McKillop

National Champion

Palliative Care Australia’s National Champions are a group of eminent Australians who represent a range of backgrounds, skills, and experiences in their professional and private lives.

National Champions work with our Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer to build strategic alliances that serve the business objectives, values, and mission of PCA.

Let’s meet one of our Champions, Dr Kirsten McKillop is a policy and law reform expert with many years’ experience. Kirsten’s work spans across transport, workers’ compensation, social and health law. She has been admitted as a barrister and solicitor in the High Court of New Zealand and as a lawyer in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Australia.

Kirsten, tell us about your connection to palliative care and your interest in being a PCA National Champion, what’s been your connection to palliative care?

There’s a personal connection and professional connection. So, my personal connection is through a family member with a terminal illness and the options we had around how they lived well at the end of their life – having those options during that time were very important.

COVID made that time a bit more difficult and impacted the options we had.

Also, I had a friend who got sick very young, and it was very important to her that she had options that took into account her young children.

So I guess personally, I’ve seen the benefits of palliative care and how it can work well and I want that for more people and families.

And then professionally, I previously worked at the Victorian Law Reform Commission, where we looked at adult guardianship and enduring powers of attorney. So, there was a lot around decision making at the end of life.

We also looked at Advanced Care Directives, so I guess I got a lot of insights around the benefits of thinking about and planning for this part of life.

What really stood out during that work was the importance of ‘the person’ being at the centre of any decision making – not removing the person so that they feel like things are happening to them rather then with them.

Did you have a knowledge of the palliative care before those experiences, what did those experiences teach you?

Not really, and what I learnt was that it’s more than just care given right at the end of life, it’s a longer process with steps along the way where different people can be involved at different spots depending on what the person needed.

What my loved ones were worried about was losing their autonomy or control.

It was respectful, people come to the house at different times and talk to about the options and what was important and help make decisions.

Your professional experiences are interesting, working with Advanced Care Directives, and encouraging people to make those plans. What benefits have you seen for people and families who take those steps and put plans or directives in place?

It gives the person an opportunity to express their wishes and have them known and recorded.

They have discussions with the people who care about them and have their best interests at heart.

And I think from the point of view of the family or whoever is playing a caring role, it means less potential for conflict or tension – it just makes for smoother processes when it’s really clear what the person wants.

Which also helps with the grieving process that inevitably follows.

Having had those personal and professional experiences, has that changed the way you live your life or your view on life? Has that influenced how you go about your life and your day to day?

I guess it’s made me have conversations with my family that I might not have had. Yeah, and I think in terms of how you live your life, it makes you think about what’s important for you and what’s right for you, what your values are, and all those kinds of things.

It sparks that thinking and that will be different for each person.

What was it that took that personal and professional experience and lead you to become a PCA National Champion? What drew you to the role?

It brings all those things together, I guess. It’s an opportunity to advocate for something that I think is important, but not very well understood in some ways.

As I said, I probably didn’t have a very good understanding of it either until I had the experiences I had – and so I want people to better understand the that have discussions and decisions in place about the end of your life gives us options and puts the person at the centre of what happens. That aligns very strongly with my personal values.

Yes, it’s probably not always something that people would think about, so I want to help highlight that opportunity and spark that thinking.

Tell us a bit more about your work these days and your professional background.

At the moment, I work at Austroads, which is nothing to do with any of these things!

It’s the peak association for state, territory and federal transport agencies and local government. Austroads solves problems for transport agencies in Australia and New Zealand, we also provide national services that help transport agencies to operate seamlessly across state borders and bring national efficiencies to operations.

My professional background has always been in the policy, law and governance areas.

Relationships are central to the work and success of PCA, reach out if you’d like to speak with Kirsten – pca@palliativecare.org.au

Let’s see how we can work together to increase access to palliative care and support people and families at the end of life.