Dr. Lynn is director of The Washington Home Center for Palliative Care Studies, in Washington, D.C. She is also a senior scientist for RAND, a nonprofit institution that seeks to improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis, and a clinical professor of medicine at The George Washington University, as well as president of Americans for Better Care of the Dying, a nonprofit public advocacy group that seeks to improve Medicare and Medicaid and other aspects of federal health policy.
Born in Oakland, Maryland, in 1951, Joanne Harley graduated with a bachelor of science degree, summa cum laude, from Dickinson College in 1970, and earned her doctor of medicine degree from Boston University in 1974. She later earned a master of arts degree in philosophy and social policy from The George Washington University in 1984, and a master of science degree in evaluative clinical sciences from Dartmouth College in 1995.
Dr. Lynn began working in medical ethics as project director of The President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research. She was principal writer of the commission's 1983 report, Deciding to Forgo Life-Sustaining Treatment.
From 1985 to 1996 she studied the course of illness and treatment for ten thousand seriously ill hospitalized patients as part of the 'SUPPORT' study to evaluate patient care. The project sought to improve decision-making in the care of those patients.
Dr. Lynn has served more than two thousand patients at the end of their lives in hospice and hospital care, and has counseled families caring for relatives with long-term illnesses, as well as the patients. She oppones legalization of physician-assisted suicide and testified on the subject before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1998. She instead advocates pain management and focuses on quality of life throughout the last part of life. Dr. Lynn points out that "we penalize physicians who might overuse drugs, but almost never do we even notice if a physician under-treats pain. Certainly, no physician fears losing his license for non-treatment of pain." She has also written briefs on important court cases, including on the issue of physician-assisted suicide, before the United States Supreme Court.
Dr. Lynn sums up what she feels is a false choice presented by the current medical system, "Would you rather die in pain at home or in a hospital? Would you rather be bankrupted by care in a nursing home or at home?" The dilemmabeyond needing to improve pain management and hospice useis that Medicare and Medicaid cover costs of certain kinds of care but have no comprehensive policy.
Dr. Lynn has been elected to the membership in the Institute of Medicine and received the American Medical Women's Association Elizabeth Blackwell Award in 2003.