Honorary Degree Awarded to Health Policy Leader Myra Christopher
At National University of Health Sciences’ December 15th commencement ceremony, the university awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D) to Ms. Myra Christopher, a national leader in health policy for patients facing the end of life or suffering from chronic pain.
Myra Christopher has been President and CEO of the Center for Practical Bioethics since its inception in 1985. In addition, from 1998-2003, Christopher served as the national program officer of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation’s National Program Office for State-Based Initiatives to Improve End-of Life Care. In 2011, she was named the Kathleen M. Foley Chair in Pain and Palliative Care. These roles have allowed Christopher to continue her lifelong mission to improve care for seriously ill people and their families.
Because of Ms. Christopher’s involvement with the Nancy Beth Cruzan case, Senator John Danforth sought her assistance in drafting and introducing the Patient Self-Determination Act, which became law in 1990. She also served as a public outreach advisor to Bill Moyers on for his PBS documentary”On Our Own Terms.”
Since the late 1990s, Christopher has expanded the scope of her work to include the under treatment of chronic pain. She speaks and writes about both pain and palliative care. She is currently the principal investigator on the Pain Action Initiative: A National Strategy (PAINS).
From 2010-11, she served as a member of the Pain Study Committee at the Institutes of Medicine focused on the inadequate treatment of pain. The IOM report, Relieving Pain In American: A Blueprint for Transformation in Prevention, Care, Education and Research, was submitted to Congress in June, 2011. Christopher also consults with the Centers for Disease Control to promote pain and palliative care as a public health issue.
In her commencement address to National University’s graduating class of health care professionals, Ms. Christopher reminded the future physicians that they can help in the mission to improve the quality of life for over 116 million Americans living with chronic pain. She also explained that the United Sates economy loses $560 – 635 billion annually from chronic pain in terms of health care costs and loss of productivity. In addition, the suicide rate for those suffering from chronic pain is three times the average rate for the general population.
She also recounted how she embarked on her involvement with end-of-life issues and health policy through helping her own mother fulfill a heartfelt desire to die at home. She urged graduates to keep an open mind about where their own life journey may take them. She explained how, in her younger days, she could have never predicted that she would have made the choices that led her to where she is today.
National University has a history of awarding honorary degrees to exceptional individuals who have made valuable contributions to education, health sciences and health care. “We are honored to present this degree to an individual who has worked so tirelessly and done so much for patient care in our country,” says Dr. James F. Winterstein, President of National University of Health Sciences.