Barbara Coombs Lee
Barbara Coombs Lee, PA, FNP, JD, (born 1947) is an American activist and president of Compassion & Choices, a national non-profit organization dedicated to expanding and protecting the rights of the terminally ill. She practiced as a nurse and physician assistant for 25 years before becoming an attorney and devoting her professional life to individual choice and empowerment in health care.
Staffing the Oregon Senate Healthcare and Bioethics committee in 1991, she helped Oregon State Senator Frank L. Roberts as he proposed one of the first aid in dying laws in the nation. Unfortunately, the committee never approved the bill, and Roberts died of his prostate cancer in 1993, suffering the kind of slow, painful death he hoped his bill would spare him. When Coombs Lee read in her church bulletin that congregants wanted to draft a Death with Dignity bill and place it before Oregon voters, she volunteered to help. She co-authored the bill and became one of three chief petitioners who filed the Oregon Death with Dignity Act as a citizens’ initiative in 1994. Ms. Coombs Lee served as spokesperson for the group through two statewide campaigns and 10 years defending against attacks on the nation’s first Death with Dignity law in both the judicial and legislative arenas. Senator Roberts’ wife, Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts, became a good friend and a tireless and outspoken advocate for Death with Dignity.
Under Ms. Coombs Lee’s leadership, since 1996 as president of Compassion in Dying (which became Compassion & Choices in 2005), the end-of-life choice movement has achieved many milestones. In 2008, Ms. Coombs Lee was a senior advisor for the Washington state Death with Dignity ballot initiative that voters approved by an 18-point margin, becoming the second state to legalize aid in dying. In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case brought by Compassion & Choices (Baxter v. Montana) that it is not against the state’s public policy for a physician to provide aid in dying to a mentally competent, terminally ill adult.
Ms. Coombs Lee has been interviewed by many of the nation’s leading media outlets, including Bloomberg News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, NPR’s All Things Considered, The NPR-syndicated Diane Rehm Show, NBC News, CNN's Crossfire, CBS’ 60 Minutes, PBS’ The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, The Today Show, On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying and The Dr. Oz Show.
She has been a presenter at programs sponsored by the American Bar Association, Older Women’s League, American Pain Society, Oregon State Bar, Cleveland City Club, Americans for Better Care of the Dying, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Pain Society. She also spoke at the World Federation Right to Die conferences in Zurich, Boston, Brussels and Toronto. Her audiences have included the Oregon Gerontological Association and the California Nurse Assembly & Education Conference. Her 1999 debate Doctor Assisted Suicide: Compassionate Alternative or Murder with James Bopp, Jr., was produced the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center for Public Radio. She also is an invited collaborator in Dr. Oz's Sharecare.
Ms. Coombs Lee studied literature and nursing at Vassar College and Cornell University, and earned advanced degrees in law and medicine from the University of Washington and Lewis & Clark College. She is a member of the Oregon State Bar.
- Seligman, Katherine. "Hastening the End In the face of painful, debilitating illness, some people turn to end-of-life consultants as they plan for death". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 24 February 2010.
- Browning, Skylar. "Montana leads the way in end-of-life choice". The Missoula Independent. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
- "Compassion or Killing: Doctor Assisted Suicide". Justice Talking. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
- "Profile: Barbara Coombs Lee". ShareCare. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
- Compassion & Choices (official website)