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Vote Like Your Future Depends on It

This election season is extracting an enormous toll from candidates and citizens alike.

Pressure is always intense in a Presidential year, but this year is different.  Airwaves and Internet hammer away with news of poll after poll, minute campaign details and endless tit for tat. The presidential race, Senate and House races — even local campaigns — all occupy space in national media. Twenty e-mails appear in my inbox by noon each day, all URGENT and all pleading for funds.

The money flow is mind boggling. According to, state races alone have raised almost $1.2 Billion. reports that each presidential campaign has raised and spent almost a billion dollars.  And of course, this doesn’t include the biggest spenders of all, the super PACs.

The world watches in wonder and dismay, and my sense is most Americans just want it to be over.  It’s understandable that people might block out the noise and ignore politics altogether in an attempt to restore balance and sanity to their lives. For those ready to run screaming from the computer or TV, sit out the election and withhold their vote, I have two words:

Supreme Court

Politicians come and go, but ultimately the strength of our democracy and the breadth of our freedom depend on these nine lawyers.  Questions of end-of-life choice provide a good measure of the power of these individuals to either invade — or respect — the autonomy and dignity we enjoy as Americans.

  • In 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Nancy Cruzan should be relieved of her feeding tube if clear evidence was that she would not want it. It could have ruled otherwise.
  • In 1997 The U.S. Supreme Court let a Ninth Circuit ruling stand, essentially telling litigants from National Right to Life they had no standing to block Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. (Lee v. Oregon)  Right to Life lawyer James Bopp failed to persuade the Court that Oregon’s law represented a risk or injury to his client.  Yet the Court could have been persuaded otherwise, and our law could have been enjoined forever.
  • Four times in 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in the Schiavo case. Refusing to grant certiorari, the Court left intact Florida rulings that Terri Schiavo’s husband acted according to her wish not to be maintained in an unconscious state. But it could have ruled otherwise, and stepped in as Congress did to meddle in an intensely private decision.
  • In 2006, with Justices Roberts, Scalia and Thomas dissenting, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oregon’s right as a sovereign state to regulate doctors and determine the boundaries of legitimate medical practice. Six Justices Blocked U.S. Attorneys General Ashcroft And Gonzales in their quest to stop Oregon’s Death with Dignity law. It could have been otherwise, and the federal government could easily have usurped state authority over medical use of controlled drugs.  This would have given the party in federal power the ability to intrude in every State’s medical practice standards.

If you are disgusted at the sorry condition of our political contests and tempted to let this Election Day pass without registering a vote, please don’t.  Think on your sacred freedoms and know how fragile they are. Vote as though your future depends on it. It does.

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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.