My family is very private, so I have to believe something good will come from sharing our very personal story with you through my film, The Self-Made Man. The extremely public death of Terri Schiavo has shown how polarized we can become over the issue of how we die, and how this polarization can devastate a family. Through The Self-Made Man, I hope to show how a family can deal openly and lovingly with a family member’s decision to die. I hope that my family’s experience can help other families discuss their end-of-life wishes and prepare the legal documents that specify their end-of-life wishes (living will or advanced directive) and designate a trusted loved one (health care power of attorney) to make health care decisions for them should they become incapacitated.
As you watch The Self-Made Man, I’d like you to know that the nuances you see in it, the ambivalence, the things that seem open to interpretation, are indeed intended to be open to your interpretation. I am presenting my point of view on what happened in my family, but I don’t intend to convince you of anything other than the need to form and act on your own point of view.
I know The Self-Made Man will be controversial. I’ve heard from many people who, upon seeing the film, tell me of a similar story in their own families. In many cases, it’s something they don’t talk about out of fear and shame. If you are one of these people, I’d like to ask you to share your story with others, to end the secrecy about people who take their own lives due to terminal illness or disability or physical pain they cannot endure.
On the other hand, you may be someone who thinks that hastening one’s own death can never be rational or good. You may oppose “rational suicide” or “assisted suicide” for religious reasons or because you think that wanting to hasten one’s death is a sign of untreated depression. Or you may oppose hastened death because you fear that allowing people to do this is the beginning of a “slippery slope,” leading to the ability of HMOs or the government to euthanize poor, weak, or disabled people.
I’d like to encourage people on both sides of these issues to consider the other side’s point of view, calm down the rhetoric, and strive toward compromises that enhance freedom and tolerance. If anyone reading this is in despair and considering suicide, please talk to someone before doing anything. You can talk to a sympathetic listener 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
— Susan Stern, Director/Producer/Writer
San Francisco, 2005