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NPR’s Diane Rehm a voice in end-of-life debate

NPR’s Diane Rehm a voice in end-of-life debate

Over the weekend, the Washington Post published a piece on National Public Radio host Diane Rehm’s advocacy for death with dignity.

Last year, Rehm’s husband John chose to end his long battle with Parkinson’s by refusing food and water, a decision not unexpected, as he and his wife had promised each other long ago they would help each other end their lives “‘when the time came,’ Diane said, ‘if there was some incurable or inoperable disease.'”

The end of John’s battle with Parkinson’s last June was that moment. They had a meeting with his doctor. Their daughter, Jennifer Rehm, a physician in the Boston area, listened on the phone. She said, “Dad, they can make you comfortable.” Her father replied: “I don’t want comfort.”

The doctor made it clear he couldn’t help, but offered the self-starvation option, which the Supreme Court has ruled legal.

That was the option John chose.

Rehm has covered end-of-life topics on her syndicated program, “The Diane Rehm Show,” including voices from both sides – including palliative care physician Ira Byock, who argues on the other side of the debate. While she conscious about the need to remain objective as a journalist, off-air she is now working as an advocate with the organization Compassion & Choices, telling her story.

University of Vermont political scientist Howard Ball, author of At Liberty to Die: The Battle for Death with Dignity in America:

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.

Both Rehm and her late husband are Episcopalian, and in John’s last days, he was given last rites by an Episcopal priest and friend. He donated his body to George Washington Medical School for study (which Diane will do as well).

“I believe… there is total acceptance in heaven for John’s decision to leave behind this earthly life.”

Yesterday’s show revisited the right-to-die topic: read and listen here.

Posted by Cara Ellen Modisett


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George A. Bennett

God can help us answer the most difficult questions about death and dying. We have a God that cares about every detail of our lives, and every detail of our end of (physical) life.

“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” KJV 5:1

George A. Bennett

2 Corinthians 5:1, KJV

Danielle Clark

I have health issues that require medications that, if taken to excess would cause my death. I choose not to take them. For me, life with illness, and pain is still joyful. I’d like that choice to remain mine, and my family’s. It was so for both my parents. My brother, mother and myself were in agreement to honor my father’s wishes should he have yet another stroke, and recovery was not possible. Fortunately, we had a primary care physician who listened, and kept my father out of pain until he died a few days after his stroke. No action was taken; it was rather an absence of action that allowed my father to die. A similar circumstance faced my brother and I when my mother’s condition came to the point where she no longer had the breath to talk, much less walk. This time there was hospice, which had not been available for my father. There was no treatment to reverse or relieve her condition. She consented to remaining home, and receiving medication for pain. My brother and I agreed to honor her choice. I am grateful that my parents died as they did, and that I did nothing to prolong their dying. I love them; I miss them; I honor them. Decisions like this are personal, private, family decisions. I look at the time when my parents were dying as some of our family’s most healthy examples of love and family.

Ann Fontaine

That has not been our experience in Oregon. Many suffering people have the drugs to die but often end up not using them. It is a possibility but dying people don’t seem to be taking the option in great numbers.

Jon White

I am conflicted about physician-assisted suicide. As a former hospital chaplain, I know too well that many deaths are not “good deaths,” and I can relate to the fear that engenders. At the same time, I worry that with widespread acceptance will come widespread expectation, and I fear living in a world where the old, the sick and the unempowered are expected or encouraged to end their lives more.

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