For NPR's Rehm, Right-to-Die Debate Is Personal

Host wades into debate after her husband was forced to starve himself to death
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 15, 2015 10:56 AM CST
For NPR's Rehm, Right-to-Die Debate Is Personal
President Obama awards the 2013 National Humanities Medal to radio host Diane Rehm during a ceremony in the White House, Monday, July 28, 2014.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Diane Rehm is a distinctive voice beloved by the 2.6 million people who listen to her NPR show. She's also made the ethically precarious choice to become a voice in the right-to-die debate, and it's personal: As the Washington Post reports, the 78-year-old Rehm ran smack into the question of how to end life with dignity last year when her husband of 54 years, John, after a physically devastating battle with Parkinson's that would only get worse, decided his time had arrived. But because the couple lived in Maryland, which is not a right-to-die state, his doctor refused to help him end his life. And with Diane Rehm's high profile, her husband felt he could not ask her to help him. Which left John Rehm just one option: Stop eating and drinking. He did. His death took 10 days. "I feel the way that John had to die was just totally inexcusable," Rehm tells the Post. "It was not right."

Rehm is publicly working with end-of-life organization Compassion & Choices, and she's using her story—which she recounted to NBC last year—to help raise funds for the cause; she tells the Post she'd testify before Congress if asked. "She brings gravitas, she brings her experience, and she brings a level of reason and sanity to this discussion that is severely lacking when you look at the opponents of death with dignity," says an expert with the University of Vermont, which is in one of only three states with right-to-die laws on the books. Rehm has also discussed the subject on her show. "As strongly as I feel, I don’t want to use the program to proselytize my feelings," she said, but with cases like Brittany Maynard stoking national debate, she says, "I do want to have more and more discussion about it because I feel it’s so important." (Elsewhere today, an old right-to-die case may come back to haunt Jeb Bush.)

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