Diane Rehm will end right-to-die advocacy

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diane-rehm-speaking-2007Diane Rehm will no longer raise funds for an organization that supports physician-assisted suicide, a decision stemming from a meeting last week with executives from NPR and WAMU, the Washington, D.C., station where her public radio show is based.

NPR learned of Rehm’s participation at a fundraising dinner for Compassion & Choices, an organization that supports medically assisted death, from a Feb. 14 Washington Post article, according to NPR Ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen. Rehm had also appeared on the cover of the organization’s magazine.

Rehm got involved with the cause after her husband, John, decided he wanted to end his fight with Parkinson’s disease. Physician-assisted suicide is not legal in Maryland, where the couple lived, and his doctor told him all he could do was to stop eating and drinking. He did, and died 10 days later.

“I feel the way that John had to die was just totally inexcusable,” Rehm told the Post. “It was not right.” She had covered the topic on her show and revisited it in a broadcast after the Post article appeared.

Jensen wrote in a Feb. 25 post that Rehm’s advocacy went too far.

“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,” Jensen said. “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.”

In a statement quoted by Jensen, NPR said that Rehm will give end-of-life issues “no more and no less coverage than the news dictates.”

“If and when the show addresses end-of-life issues, Diane will remind the audience about her personal experience and be transparent about her affiliation with any organization focused on the issue,” the statement said. Rehm will participate in two more fundraising dinners this month that were already planned but will stop after those events.

Jensen said the issue is complicated by Rehm’s employment by a member station instead of NPR. The network expects reporters to follow its code of ethics, but it was not clear whether the guidelines apply to hosts of NPR’s acquired shows.

NPR plans to update its code of ethics with “clear guidelines for acquired shows,” Jensen said, including which roles will be subject to the guidelines — news hosting as opposed to game-show hosting, for example.

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