Health Care

Public Radio Host Diane Rehm on Every Human Being’s Right to Choose Death

May 25, 2016  • Mariela Morales, Guest Blogger

Above, watch the full conversation featuring public radio host Diane Rehm discussing her book, “On My Own.”

“I wrote with rage, with rage to have to watch my husband go through 10 days of that kind [of suffering],” said a visibly moved Diane Rehm while talking about the experience of losing her husband, which she covers in her new book “On My Own.” The public radio morning show host recently sat down with Aspen Institute Executive Vice President Elliot Gerson and Dr. Jessica Herzstein as part of the Alma and Joseph Gildenhorn Book Series.

Diane Rehm, a known voice for many Americans who Monday through Friday tune in for two hours to hear her radio show, is also an author and activist for the right to die movement. During the Aspen Institute discussion, Rehm described how her late husband John Rehm suffered from Parkinson’s disease for 10 years before he decided to put an end to his life.

“I can in no way take care of myself any longer,” said Mr. Rehm in a meeting with his personal physician and immediate family two years ago, according to Diane’s own accounts of the events. “I have fallen into degradation and I wish to go no further.”  Yet, the family soon found out Maryland state law prevents individuals from getting aid in ending their lives.

In her book, Diane describes how her husband took matters into his own hands and refused to take water, food, or any medication in order to end his life. The journey to death took him 10 days, and Diane was by his side during those final moments.

It was the night before John passed away that the radio host started writing “On My Own,” a book that narrates her personal struggle when dealing with the death of her husband as much as bringing to light the ethical debate around the right to die movement. In front of the Institute’s book series audience, Diane affirmed, “What I would like to see in this country is that each and everyone has the right to choose… I know I have the right to take my own life, but I hope that I shall have the right to have aid in dying.”

In defense of aid in dying

John Rehm’s long drawn-out death from Parkinson’s disease and his decision to die from starvation moved his wife to be one of the most salient voices around the right to choose one’s death. “I don’t know what was happening to him internally, but I do know that I felt his suffering and felt how unfair it was to him,” she said.

But the radio host acknowledges the difficulty of talking about such issue. “This country is death adverse,” she said. “We simply do not want to talk about something every single person alive now is going to face at one point or another,” she added when answering a question from the audience. Diane also encouraged the audience to start thinking about their own preferences when dying before having the conversation with loved ones.

Diane will stop hosting her radio show after this year’s presidential election. She confirmed that while she is stepping away from the microphone, she is not retiring. Her parting from the show is also an opportunity to focus more on the subject of the right to die. Besides the many events that she will attend as part of her book tour, she is expected to give talks next year around the topic of aid in dying, a subject matter that she would like to dedicate her time to for the upcoming years.

*We issued a terminology correction to an earlier version of this piece, replacing the word “euthanasia” with “right to die” or “death with dignity.”