Myra J. Christopher

Myra Christopher sitting on a sofa.

Founding President and CEO of the Center for Practical Bioethics


Myra Christopher was President and CEO of the Center from its inception in 1985 through December 2011, when she became the Kathleen M. Foley Chair for Pain and Palliative Care and served as Director of the PAINS Project (Pain Action Alliance to Implement a National Strategy). After nearly 34 years at the Center, she retired on June 30, 2018.


Improving End-of-Life Care

Myra’s lifelong mission has been to improve care for seriously ill people and their families. From 1998-2003, Myra served as the national program officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s National Program Office for State-Based Initiatives to Improve End-of -Life Care, an $11.5 million grant award program housed at the Center.

Because of her involvement with the first “right-to-die” case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court (Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Depart of Health), Senator John Danforth (R.MO) sought her assistance in drafting and introducing the Patient Self-Determination Act, which became law in 1990. Myra consulted with the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations on patients’ rights and organizational ethics standards and developed Beyond Compliance, resource materials and a seminar for the Joint Commission that was presented across the country.

She served as a public outreach advisor to Bill Moyers on for his PBS documentary, On Our Own Terms, worked with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to present the first national conference on palliative care in nursing homes, directed Community State Partnerships to Improve End-of-Life Care, collaborated with the National Association of Attorneys General to establish palliative care as a consumer protection issue, edited State Initiatives to Improve End-of-Life Care, and collaborated with the RAND Institute to develop a report to Congress on advance care planning.

On behalf of the Center, she participated in founding the Coalition to Transform Advanced Illness (CTAC) in Washington, DC and served on its incorporating board. She is currently on the board of the Coalition for Physician Accountability. She has served on many advisory and boards of directors locally and nationally, including the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, the Duke University Institute for Care at the End of Life, the Federation of State Medical Boards, the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, the University of Kansas School of Nursing, and the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation.


Chronic Pain

Since the late 1990’s, Myra 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 was a reviewer on the Institute of Medicine (IOM) 2014 report, Dying in America. She is currently the principal investigator on the Pain Action Initiative: A National Strategy and serves as Director of PAINS, a program of the Center whose mission is to improve care for the more than 100 million Americans who struggle with chronic pain.

From 2010-11, she served as a member of the IOM’s Pain Study Committee. The committee submitted its report, Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transformation in Prevention, Care, Education and Research, to Congress in June 2011. In 2012, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appointed her to the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee at the National Institutes of Health, where she has served on the Oversight Committee for HHS’ National Pain Strategy Report, published in March 2016. She has consulted with many organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, AARP and others to promote pain and palliative care as public health issues.


Honors and Awards

Myra received many awards for her work to improve care for those suffering from advanced illness and chronic pain. In October 2017, at its national conference in Kansas City, the American Society for Bioethics + Humanities presented her with the Lifetime Achievement Award in Bioethics, in recognition of her role in changing bioethics from a purely academic endeavor to one focused on providing services and resources to real patients, families, providers and policymakers facing real-life healthcare issues and crises in real time.

Other awards she received include The American Academy of Pain Medicine’s Patient Advocacy Award, the American Academy of Pain Management’s “Head Heart” Award, the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care President’s Award, the W.F. Yates Medallion for Distinguished Service/William Jewell College, the American Academy of Critical Care Nursing’s Pioneering Spirit Award, the Marian Gray Secundy SANKOFA Award for work to improve palliative and end-of-life care for African Americans, the National Association of Attorneys General President’s Award, the Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC), the Honorary Alumnus of the Year Kansas University School of Nursing, and Nonprofit Professional of the Year from Nonprofit Connect.

In December 2011, she received an Honorary Doctorate from National University Health Sciences in Chicago, and in March 2015 was inducted into the inaugural class of the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Myra J. Christopher Reflects on Her Leadership and Career in 2018

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