Rethinking the way we approach end-of-life and understanding why people are ingrained risk takers are the focus of two TEDxSydney talks by UNSW experts this month. 

UNSW Business School Senior Lecturer Dr Elise Payzan-LeNestour will discuss her recent discovery that human beings are very smart in terms of our capacity to understand risk, yet we are ingrained risk takers, taking mindless risks all the time.

Using insights gained from six years of investigation in the lab at the UNSW Business School and Brown University, Payzan-LeNestour will discuss how humans are hardwired to repeatedly gamble and how greediness is inherent in the way our brain works.

“Yet there is something we can do about it because we are very lucid – deep down we know that we are greedy and that we cannot resist the temptation to seek more reward,” Dr Payzan-LeNestour says. 

“So to protect ourselves against our inner demons we are keen to use 'commitment devices' to tie our hands to ensure that we do not deviate from the rational course of action when tempted to do so. The moral of the story is that we are all gamblers at heart but there is hope!”

As the population ages, debate about how much we should prolong life – and in what settings – has intensified. UNSW Professor of Intensive Care Ken Hillman is front and centre of that debate. 

A Grattan Institute study published in the Medical Journal of Australia last year found death in Australia was now “highly institutionalised”, with 54% of people dying in hospital and 32% in residential care. Only 14% of people died in their homes or elsewhere.

Yet according to Professor Hillman, two out of three Australians want to die at home in a dignified way.

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Hillman, who has spent the past 35 years managing dying patients in acute hospitals, is proposing a radical rethink about the way terminally ill elderly patients experience medical treatment.

“I want to spark more end-of-life conversations which I believe are currently happening too late,” says Hillman, who is also founding director of UNSW Medicine’s Simpson Centre for Health Services Research.

“The elderly, their caregivers and loved ones need to talk about how far they would like to pursue medical treatment to prolong life when their condition deteriorates, including admission to intensive care, rescue surgery or futile chemotherapy.”

TEDxSydney is the leading platform and pipeline for the propagation of Australian ideas, creativity and innovation to the rest of the world. The 7th annual TEDxSydney event will be held at Sydney Opera House on Wednesday 25 May 2016. The full list of speakers can be found here.