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United, as Women and for Women

Yesterday was the 101st annual International Women’s Day. In some countries this Day holds the same stature as Mother’s Day and celebrates women’s economic, political and social achievements. More or less concurrently, proposals landed in Congress and in states around the nation to excuse insurance plans and religious employers from birth control coverage if they have moral objections. That a day to honor women should fall amidst a political action so harmful to women – attacking something so basic and benign as contraception – demonstrates the inequities women still suffer even here in America, even now in 2012.

The crass and inaccurate rants that ensued should sound familiar. Arguments to deny women the right to choose what is suitable for their lives are interchangeable with the pious condemnations of terminally ill individuals’ right to choose what is suitable for their deaths. Targeting women is still easy and a sexual context lends an emotional charge to assaults on basic healthcare. But don’t be fooled. In any of these attacks, you can easily substitute “patients” for “women” and “suicidal” for “promiscuous.” Yes, this disrespect for a woman’s personal liberty masks what is in fact a disregard for the healthcare autonomy of all of us. The dictators of morality are no more respectful of end-of-life choice than they are of reproductive choice.

The burden of defending end-of-life choice falls more heavily on women, as we tend to live longer ourselves, and act as the caregivers and decision-makers for others who go before us.
We, as women and for women, must work together to secure the right to control our healthcare, make our own end-of-life choices, and let no one decide for us how much we or our loved ones should suffer. This effort needs information, organization and strategy to succeed. We’ve designed our upcoming conference in Chicago this June – Heights of Compassion, Bridges to Choice – to address issues of personal planning, personal activism and community advocacy.

Our conference can help you ensure your own end-of-life wishes are followed, deliver tools to empower your family and community for their protection, and reveal opportunities to help secure the full range of options for all Americans and future generations. Come take the power with effective tools to battle the forces that would limit our liberty. Let’s unify to create a single vibrant voice that speaks for the vast majority of Americans against the noisy few. Yes, we’ve come a long way; but clearly we’ve still some distance to go.

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Barbara Coombs Lee is President of Compassion & Choices, a 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 beginning a career in law and health

Since then she has devoted her professional life to individual choice and empowerment in health care. As a private attorney, as counsel to the Oregon State Senate, as a managed care executive and finally as Chief Petitioner for Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, she has championed initiatives that enable individuals to consider a full range of choices and be full participants in their health care decisions.

Ms. Lee took her undergraduate education at Vassar College and Cornell University and obtained advanced degrees in law and medicine from the University of Washington and Lewis & Clark College. She holds an adjunct position at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine and is a member of the Oregon State Bar.

She has been interviewed by NBC News, CNN Crossfire, 60 Minutes, McNeil Lehrer News Hour, NPR, The Today Show, and Bill Moyers’ “On Death and Dying” among others. She has also testified before the US Congress on end-of-life issues.

She has been recognized with a national health Policy Fellowship, Boeringer Ingeheim Foundation, an American Jurisprudence Award for outstanding performance in the study of medical law and a National Health Lawyers Association scholarship for outstanding student achievement.

Ms. Coombs Lee has been a presenter at programs sponsored by American Bar Association, Older Women’s League, American Pain Society, Oregon State Bar, Americans for Better Care of The Dying, American Associations for the Advancement of Science, End of Life Concerns, and the American Pain Society. She spoke at the World Federation Right to Die conference in Zurich, Boston and Brussels.
Her audiences have included the Oregon Gerontological Association: the California Nurse Assembly & Education Conference. Her debate “Doctor Assisted Suicide: Compassionate Alternative or Murder” with James Bopp, Jr., was produced by “Justice Talking” a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center
for Public Radio.

Since Gonzales v. Oregon, the lawsuit defending the Oregon assisted-dying law, Ms. Coombs Lee has been interviewed by many of the nation’s newspapers. She has been quoted in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and on NPR’s All Things Considered. Recently, The Harvey M. Meyerhoff Lectures on Ethics at the End of Life hosted her presentation “Local Medical Practice and the Federal Threat” at Johns Hopkins University.

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