Radio host Diane Rehm is coming to Town Hall and “stepping away from the microphone” after NPR disapproved of her advocacy for the death-with-dignity movement.
Diane Rehm might be in the final year of hosting her longtime, National Public Radio-syndicated talk program, but she wants to make one thing very clear — she is not retiring.
She is simply “stepping away from the microphone.”
Rehm, 79, intends to remain on America’s radar after 37 years as host of her weekday “Diane Rehm Show” broadcast, which ends Dec. 31. She says she decided to step down after the 2014 death of her husband, John (who ended his life by refusing food and liquid for 10 days after a long, debilitating struggle with Parkinson’s disease), her subsequent advocacy for the death-with-dignity movement and the pushback that drew from NPR brass.
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7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, at Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle; $5 (206-652-4255 or townhallseattle.org).
“NPR came with several of their bigwigs, saying my appearances at dinners sponsored by Compassion & Choices (a death-with-dignity nonprofit) did not sit well with them,” Rehm said. “People were paying to hear me advocate for my husband’s right to die, and my own right to make that choice. I so believe in that right that I am going to be using my time to speak out around the country for Compassion & Choices.”
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In a 2015 post, NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen wrote that Rehm’s work with Compassion & Choices was “a step too far for someone associated with NPR.”
Rehm is making a stop at Town Hall on Tuesday (Feb. 23) to talk about her new book, “On My Own,” which just entered the No. 11 spot on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.
“On My Own” is Rehm’s powerful account of her late husband’s decision to die in 2014. A U.S. State Department attorney, the 83-year-old John was unable to use his limbs or care for himself, she writes, “in any way … on his own.”
John sought doctor-assisted death but was rebuffed by Maryland law, which makes it illegal.
“John ultimately relinquished his own life by virtue of not drinking any liquid, or eating or taking any medication,” Rehm said. “It took him 10 days to die, and it just makes me so sad that it had to be such a prolonged experience for him.”
Rehm says she began writing material for “On My Own” while her spouse of 54 years was dying.
“I was in his room and fearing he was slipping away,” she said. “I was trying to sleep on two chairs, with my dog on my stomach. I couldn’t sleep and had my iPad with me. I wrote what I was thinking and feeling. That’s how it started. Later I traveled back in time not only to the day John made his decision, but to the onset of his illness, how he was diagnosed and what happened afterward.”
Rehm’s pain while watching her husband’s slow, grueling demise led her to become a champion of legalizing assisted death. She noted that, according to a Gallup poll, most Americans prefer the description of assisted death as “helping patients end their lives by painless means” rather than “assisted suicide.”
“People do not like the word suicide, which sounds violent,” she said. “I think one wishes to say, ‘I’ve had a good life, I did what I wanted to do and I am ready to let go.’ If one is given medication to end suffering, and decides to use it or not, that’s empowering.”
Rehm got her start in radio in 1973, when she volunteered at the then-fledgling WAMU in Washington, D.C., which currently produces her show.
“I was on the air the first day I walked in,” she said. “The station was so small. I got involved in public radio during an early point in NPR’s history. WAMU was not even a member yet. I learned on the job, and here I am.”