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Famed NPR host Diane Rehm on confronting the end of life: ‘This country has become death-averse’

Diane Rehm
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Diane Rehm recently published a new memoir, "On My Own"

Famed NPR host Diane Rehm has not scaled back the magnitude of the issues she is tackling after she announced her planned retirement from behind the microphone earlier this year. In fact, she is taking on one of the most difficult topics for most of us to talk about: death.

Rehm watched her husband’s long death from Parkinson’s unable to assist. He started purposefully depriving himself of food, water and medication when his doctor would not aid the process. After he died, she’s struggled to continue on alone both physically and emotionally. She chronicles the process in her new memoir, “On My Own,” which draws on her personal experiences and those of close, recently widowed friends.

"He saw himself going nowhere but into further loss of dignity,” Rehm told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh. “It took him ten days to die. That is so sad, to have that prolongation when one is ready.”

Rehm said her husband was unable to do anything for himself at the time he decided he was ready to die. She said he spoke with their children and herself before telling his doctor he would accept no more food or water.

Rehm also said she is still grieving and not sure she will ever stop. “People talk about the idea of closure; I’m not sure if there is such a thing,” she said.

"I want my choice and you will have your choice, but don't inflict your choice on me."

She does not consider her husband or anyone else who decides to “relinquish their life” to have committed suicide and she wants to raise awareness with her new book about people’s choice to die when they choose. After publishing her book, she has heard many stories similar to hers and has felt a sense of community in confronting end-of-life decisions.

"It is choice, I believe, we should have,” Rehm said. “I want my choice and you will have your choice, but don't inflict your choice on me.”

Currently, only four states have a “Death with Diginity” statute in place, which allows qualified terminally ill people to decide how and when they die: California, Oregon, Washington and Vermont. In Montana, end-of-life choice is legal through Supreme Court ruling, not through legislative action.

In Missouri, State Representative Kimberly Gardner, D-St.Louis, introduced HB 1919, Missouri Death with Dignity Act, which “allows a qualified person to request and obtain a prescription for medication to end his or her life.” It is not currently on the House calendar.

Rehm said that if she were to have a stroke or heart attack, she would not call 911 because she would wish to “fall asleep” and die in her own home.

"I think this country has become death-averse,” she said. “Doctors are so intent on keeping us alive that they've forgotten death is part of life."

Related Event

What: Diane Rehm Signing and Interview by Don Marsh
When: Friday, March 18 at 7:00 p.m.
Where: St. Louis County Library Headquarters, 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63131
More information

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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