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Susan Stern collaborating with the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention

Award: $35,000 Media Arts Grant awarded 2003

PBS Broadcast: July 26, 2005

The Self-Made Man by filmmaker Susan Stern explores the philosophical and psychological issues behind physician-assisted suicide through the story of a terminally ill man who takes his own life. Two collaborating organizations, the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Related Services (CESP) and Compassion and Choices, representing differing positions on suicide, guided the artist’s research and participated in screenings and discussions. The finished work was broadcast on PBS and nominated for two Emmy awards.

On Independence Day 2001, Susan Stern’s father, Bob Stern, age 77, a “self-made” businessman and solar energy pioneer, made a 50-minute videotape explaining his decision to kill himself rather than be treated for a terminal illness. Ms. Stern’s mother and brother tried to stop him, but did not succeed. Ms. Stern was not present. The story illustrated a disturbing trend that American men over age 75 have the nation’s highest suicide rate–three times the teenage rate.

The Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention is a program of the Institute on Aging, which is affiliated with the University of California at San Francisco’s Center on Aging. It provides a 24-hour telephone Friendship Line and home visits for troubled seniors. Compassion and Choices is dedicated to improving care and choices at end of life.

Susan Stern began her career as a poet, worked as an investigative reporter, and began making films in 1994. She was writer/producer/director of Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour, an award-winning documentary about the cult of the Barbie doll.