Tuesday, September 24

Should law for suicide attempts be amended?

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LAST year, 31 attempted suicide cases were recorded in Sabah but most of them were never brought to court due to the emotional and mental health.

These persons need help, not punishment.

Is it the time now to amend Section 309 of the Penal Code which criminalises suicide?

In July this year, a man allegedly drank a bottle of an antiseptic solution in an attempt to end his life to prove his undying love for his wife. After a few days of treatment in a hospital, he was in a stable condition.

November last year, a man who tried to jump from a hotel building was rescued by the Fire and Rescue Service Department personnel.

Both of them survived their suicide bids, but their problems are not quite over yet. They are all being investigated under Section 309 of the Penal Code.

In Malaysia, a suicide attempt is a criminal offence. The penalties are harsh. If one is charged in court under Section 309, and convicted, he faces a jail sentence of up to a year, or a fine, or both. The question, though, is whether those who attempt suicide ought to be brought under the criminal justice system.

Many legal experts question the relevance of this law, with some suggesting that it should be amended to reflect a more humane approach towards those who attempt to take their own life.

Deputy president of the Sabah Law Association (SLA), Mary Gomez, believes suicidal persons are already burdened. If they survived, they are subjected to jail term or fine or both, and with that pressure they would do it again.

Even worst, if the prison does not have any rehabilitation programme for those who committed suicide.

“This law we copied from the Brithsh, but they themselves have amended it five decades ago.

“Malaysia and Singapore are among a very few countries where they haven’t amended this law, and I personally think we should.

“We should look at the law and also what should be done in prison, or maybe change the sentence, go to counseling, community service, hospitals… instead of sending to jail,” she said at a forum on suicides organized recently by Befrienders Kota Kinabalu in observance of the commemoration of World Suicide Prevention Day 2016.

Being a criminal offence, Gomez said it makes it even more difficult for suicidal people to cry out for help.

State Police Central Intelligence and Crime Unit officer DSP Yazrie Ismail said attempted suicide cases in Sabah are dealt with on a case-to-case basis, would be given as ‘No Further Action’ (NFA) by the Senior Federal Counsel (SFC).

“Attempting suicide is a criminal offence under Section 309 of the Penal Code that carries a maximum jail of one year or a fine, or both, upon conviction.

“But if you ask me whether such cases have been prosecuted in court, we (police) would not recommend the cases be brought to court and we suggest the NFA so as not to add more stress to the accused. Unless if it is a murder case.

“This is because the person who failed in the bid to take his or her life has already shown signs his or her mental health is not stable and we (police) do not want to intensify the persons’ mental and psychological condition for which clearly they need help,” he said this in his talk during the forum.

Yazrie said even abettors who encourage any person of unstable mental health to commit suicide is also committing a crime for doing so.

He said they could be charged under Section 306 of the Penal Code for abetment of suicide that carries a punishment of a maximum 10 years’ jail and also liable to a fine, upon conviction.

“Abetment of suicide of child or insane person is a bigger crime as the accused could be charged under Section 305 of the Penal Code that carries a maximum jail of 20 years and also liable to a fine, upon conviction.

“As you can see, any kind of abetment that provokes and incites a person to commit suicide is a serious crime given that the punishment is over 10 years compared to attempted suicide where the jail punishment is up to a year only,” he said.

Based on the world statistics for 2015, Yazrie said Korea ranked on top of the list with the highest number of suicides (33.33 per cent), followed by Hungary (22.5 per cent), Japan (22.3 per cent), Russia (20.9 per cent) and China (19.8 per cent).

As for Malaysia, he said a total of 425 suicide cases were registered in 2015 whereby 234 suicide cases involved hanging, followed by 72 cases of jumping from high-rise buildings, 43 cases of self-poisoning normally by drinking pesticides and 76 cases of other methods of suicide.

Suicide cases in 2015 mostly occurred between 6am and noon when there were not many people around to advise or stop them from committing suicide.

As for Sabah, there were a total of 31 recorded cases throughout 2015, namely 12 cases of hanging, followed by five cases of jumping from high-rise buildings, two cases of self-poisoning and six cases of other means of suicide, that occurred between 10pm and 6am.