Coombs Lee is president of Compassion & Choices, the nation's oldest and
largest nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the
end of life. Previously, she had a 25-year career as a nurse and physician
assistant, during which she often cared for terminally ill patients. She
attended many patients who suffered through fruitless procedures and prolonged
stays in intensive care. As an emergency room and intensive care nurse, she was
obligated to perform many painful and pointless interventions on dying
Those unforgettable experiences drove her to pursue a career
in law and health policy, and to devote her professional life to individual
choice and empowerment in healthcare. As a private attorney, counsel to an
Oregon State Senate committee and a managed-care executive, she has championed
initiatives that allow individuals a full range of choices and much more agency
in their healthcare decisions.
Within the Oregon Senate Healthcare and Bioethics committee
in 1991, Barbara assisted State Senator Frank Roberts in
his advocacy for one of the first aid-in-dying laws in the nation.
Unfortunately, the committee never approved the bill, and Roberts died of
prostate cancer in 1993, suffering the kind of slow, painful death his bill
sought to help people avoid.
In 1994 Barbara co-authored and became one of three chief
petitioners for the Oregon Death with
Dignity Act. She served as spokesperson through two
statewide campaigns and spent 10 years defending the nation’s first Death with
Dignity law against attacks in both the judicial and legislative arenas.
In 2008, Barbara was senior advisor for the Washington State
Death with Dignity ballot initiative voters approved by an 18-point margin,
whereupon Washington became the second state to permit aid in dying. In 2009,
the Montana Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case brought by Compassion
& Choices (Baxter v. Montana) it is not against
the state’s public policy for a physician to provide aid in dying to a mentally
competent, terminally ill adult. Compassion & Choices defeated bills in Montana
that would have voided their Supreme Court ruling in 2011 and imprisoned
doctors for providing aid in dying in 2013. Under her leadership Compassion
successfully pushed the California End of Life Option Act in
Barbara has been interviewed by all leading media outlets.
She has testified before the U.S. Congress. She has spoken in hundreds of
venues over the past twenty-five years. She is a seasoned traveler and tireless
She 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. Barbara is a member of
the Oregon State Bar.