NRL News

Diane Rehm will “scale back” as a public advocate of assisted suicide

by | Mar 9, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

WAMU's Diane Rehm

WAMU’s Diane Rehm

My first exposure to WAMU’s Diane Rehm , I believe it was, came in 1981 or early 1982 as I sat outside the studio while my wife debated two pro-abortionists and (of course) Rehm. Since there were only three aligned against Lisa, it wasn’t a fair fight.

Since that time I have listened to Rehm, but infrequently largely because her show airs locally when I am at work. Suffice it to say she is a big shot around here. But to pretend that Rehm is some sort of neutral moderator is simply amusing.

Add to this situation of her late husband, who had Parkinson’s and who died by self-starvation with Rehm’s help, and it came as no surprise that she would be working closely with Compassion and Choices, formerly (and more accurately) known as the Hemlock Society.  Wesley Smith has pointed out many times, Compassion and Choices “promotes VSED [Voluntary Stop Eating and Drinking] on its website. It has even published a booklet about suicide by starvation for those who are not terminally ill.”

It all came to a preliminary head for Rehm after a glowing, one-sided story in the Washington Post written by Michael Rosenwald.

For our purposes here, the key paragraphs in Rosenwald’s story are

Now 78 and pondering how to manage her own death, Rehm is working with Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life organization run by Barbara Coombs Lee, a key figure in Oregon’s passage of an assisted-suicide law and a previous guest on the show. Rehm will appear on the cover of the group’s magazine this month, and she is telling John’s story at a series of small fundraising dinners with wealthy donors financing the right-to-die campaign.

If asked, she said she would testify before Congress.

Writing over at Newsbusters, Tim Graham asked

How many hosts on taxpayer-funded talk shows will be testifying on a hot-button issue like euthanasia before Congress? How can anyone expect her to offer fairness when this issue comes to her own program? No one can imagine an NPR star testifying against abortion or against assisted suicide. They’re far too “progressive” for that.

Rehm told the Post she knows that as a journalist, she must be careful. “As strongly as I feel, I don’t want to use the program to proselytize my feelings,” she said. “But I do want to have more and more discussion about it because I feel it’s so important.”

Which appears to have caught the attention of the NPR Ombudsman. After Elizabeth Jensen questioned Rehm’s very public involvement, we read today the following headline in the Post in another story written by Rosenwald: “Following criticism, NPR host Diane Rehm scales back efforts in right-to-die debate.”

We’ll talk about how much “scaling back” in a moment. Let’s first look at what Jensen had to say.

It’s tricky for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that Rehm is not a reporter; she hosts a program that regularly deals with controversial issues. Also, as Jensen makes clear, most people assume Rehm and WAMU and NPR (National Public Radio) are pretty much one and the same.

In fact, as Jensen explained,

She is an employee of WAMU, not NPR. NPR distributes her show and allows WAMU to associate the NPR brand with it, but doesn’t “own” or produce it. Listeners, however, can’t be expected to know the difference and many don’t.

So at the time Jensen wrote her column, they were thrashing out the whys and the wherefores of how NPR’s code of ethics would (or wouldn’t) apply to Rehm. Adding her two cents, Jensen concluded

My own view is that Rehm’s participation as a celebrity guest of sorts at fundraising dinners for an organization that does extensive political lobbying, as compelling as her personal story is and as careful as she is being, is a step too far for someone associated with NPR. Rehm does not believe she has crossed any line, but my view is she should be counseled against future participation in fund-raising events for the organization.

So how much is Rehm “scaling back” her public advocacy? According to today’s Rosenwald story, “Rehm agreed to stop attending the dinners — except for two this month she was already scheduled to appear at and are sold out. She plans to continue helping the organization, but on a ‘case-by-case basis’ and in consultation with her station manager.”


Most importantly for her, Rehm said, wasn’t backing away from being a right-to-die proponent.

“This should be a right for me and should have been a right for my husband,” she said.

A joint statement from NPR and WAMU said Rehm will continue to host shows on the topic and that she “will remind the audience about her personal experience and be transparent about her affiliation with any organization focused on the issue.”

“As a talk show host, Diane Rehm is free to express her own opinions alongside people who have different views,” the statement said. “This is one of the things her listeners expect, and it allows for empathy, and a lively exchange of ideas.”

So Rehm won’t be the star attention and banquets but will do her thing on a “case by case” basis in “consultation with her station manager.” That’s reassuring.

We’ll see how fair and balanced Rehm’s shows are when they focus on assisted suicide; how candidly she explains what happens when someone starves him or herself to death; and how deeply Rehm admits she is invested in assisted suicide.

Categories: Assisted Suicide