Barbara Coombs Lee

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Barbara Coombs Lee
ResidenceDenver, Colorado
Alma materVassar College
Cornell University
New York Hospital School of Nursing
University of Washington School of Public Health Medex Program
Lewis & Clark Law School
OccupationPresident of Compassion & Choices

Barbara Coombs Lee (born 1947), R.N., P.A., F.N.P., J.D., is an American activist, former health insurance company executive, and president of Compassion & Choices, a national non-profit organization dedicated to expanding and protecting the rights of the terminally ill.[1]

Staffing the Oregon Senate Healthcare and Bioethics committee in 1991, Coombs Lee helped Oregon State Senator Frank L. Roberts as he proposed one of the first aid in dying laws in the nation. 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 joined the Oregon Right to Die Political Action Committee that had already been working on draft bills, and was later selected, together with Elven Sinnard and Dr. Peter Goodwin, to be a chief petitioner who filed the Oregon Death with Dignity Act as a citizens' initiative in 1994. 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 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, 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.[2]

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, All Things Considered, The Diane Rehm Show, NBC News, Crossfire, 60 Minutes, The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, The Today Show, On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying, and The Dr. Oz Show.

Coombs Lee has presented at TEDx Talks, Stanford MedicineX, CUSP Conference, Plato Society, 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, and the World Federation Right to Die. Her audiences include 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 Annenberg Public Policy Center for Public Radio.[3]

Coombs Lee studied literature and nursing at Vassar College, Cornell University, and the New York Hospital School of Nursing, and earned advanced degrees in medicine and law from the School of Public Health Medex Program and Lewis & Clark Law School. She is an inactive member of the Oregon State Bar.[4]


  • "A Pioneer for Death With Dignity,"[5] The New York Times, (2015)
  • "Oregon's Experience With Aid-in-Dying: Findings from the Death with Dignity Laboratory,"[6] Annals of New York Academy of Science, (2014)
  • "Uninformed Consent, Unshared Decision-Making in the ICU,"[7] Huffington Post (2012)
  • "Compassionate Advocacy Dedicated to Improving the Care and Expanding the Options of the Terminally Ill,"[8] Unitarian Universalist World Magazine (2004)
  • Compassion in Dying: Stories of Dignity and Choice,[9] NewSage Press, (2003) ISBN 978-0939165490


  1. ^ Seligman, Katherine (8 June 2008). "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.
  2. ^ Browning, Skylar. "Montana leads the way in end-of-life choice". The Missoula Independent. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  3. ^ "Compassion or Killing: Doctor Assisted Suicide". Justice Talking. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  4. ^ "Oregon State Bar: Barbara Coombs Lee". Oregon Bar Association. Retrieved 21 January 2016.
  5. ^ "A Pioneer for Death With Dignity". New York Times. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  6. ^ "Oregon's experience with aid-in-dying: findings from the death with dignity laboratory" (PDF). Compassion & Choices. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  7. ^ "Uninformed Consent, Unshared Decision-Making in the ICU". Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  8. ^ "Compassionate Advocacy Dedicated to Improving the Care and Expanding the Options of the Terminally Ill". Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  9. ^ "Compassion in Dying: Stories of Dignity and Choice". New Sage Press. Retrieved 7 September 2016.

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