USA Today has a weakness for right-to-die books. In Tuesday’s paper, they promoted NPR talk show host Diane Rehm and her new memoir On My Own. The headline was “Diane Rehm’s piercing memoir of widowhood.” But the book review by Sharon Peters beat around the bush on Rehm's incessant pushing for assisted suicide.
“NPR's Diane Rehm is known for cutting to the bone of the issue in her incisive interviews,” she began. “She embraces the same tactic when telling her own story, of a life upended, in On My Own.”
“Incisive” is not the kind of adjective I would use for Rehm. I’d use “liberal” first. It gets worse. Peters somehow writes Rehm out of the decision to let her husband starve himself to death since the doctor would assist in a faster suicide:
After her husband starved himself through a 10-day death — his fierce final volley against the Parkinson’s disease that had rendered him completely disabled and dependent — Rehm, bereft and marooned, was left with questions and concerns that plague most women of a certain age.
The third question that plagued “most women” was: “Should she have tried to stop him when he declared he would be taking the suicide-by-starvation route after his doctor said he could not provide drugs for the more dignified death he yearned for?”
How common is assisted suicide? That shouldn't include cases about "do not rescuscitate" orders or other natural-death issues. Assisted suicide is more specific as a matter of morality, and Rehm imagines herself as a raging moralist: “I rage at a system that would not allow John to be helped toward his own death.” This "rage" is now being promoted in book form as a premium for donating to her NPR home at WAMU-FM in Washington.
But Peters can only promote her humility and insecurity:
She admits that throughout her decades-long career, conversing on air with presidents, artists, and various newsmakers of the moment, she never overcame her insecurity about not having a college degree and no clear entitlement to the rarified strata she inhabited.
There is nothing whiny or self-pitying about her journey into and through widowhood. She simply describes with utter honesty an Everywoman's experience with suddenly being half of what was whole for nearly her entire adulthood.
Again, "Everywoman" doesn't host a national public-radio show, and "Everywoman" hasn't used taxpayer-subsidized radio stations to thump a tub for her "progressive" nostrums on when life should end. Peters concluded by suggesting that rage-filled Rehm doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but she is oh so potent and perfect:
Rehm confides in On My Own that she will retire later this year. She knows she will devote much more of her time to advocating for allowing people with conditions like the one that encased her husband - so debilitated at the end, so consumed by his inability to be reliable or useful - the right to die a dignified death.
Rehm doesn't have all the answers, nor does she pretend to. What she does have, as always, is a flurry of important questions, perfectly considered and potently posed.