Decriminalising suicide and what it means for the public

SECTION 309 of the penal code which provides for the offence of attempted suicide reads:

“Whoever attempts to commit suicide, and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.”

If attempted suicide is to be decriminalised, all it takes is for a Penal Code (Amendment) Bill to be passed. A single clause in the bill could read:

“Section 309 is repealed.”

That’s less than five words. Singapore did it in 2019 with the Criminal Law Reform Act 2019 which was passed by Parliament and assented to by the President in May that year. It came into force on January 1, 2020.

The Act amended the Penal Code and certain other Acts of parliament, updated the criminal offence, kept up with technological changes and emerging crime trends, enhanced protection for minors and vulnerable victims, harmonised criminal laws and updated the sentencing framework.

The move to decriminalise attempted suicide was welcomed. It recognised that attempted suicide should be treated as a cry for help, rather than be treated as a crime.

According to the Republic’s Penal Code Reform Committee (PCRC), attempted suicide was made a crime in Singapore because it was thought that society should oppose people that took their own lives. It was archaic societal thinking.

The PCRC was convened following the Singapore government’s intention to undertake substantive reforms in criminal laws, and to ensure that they remained relevant and up-to-date. Pursuant to which, the PCRC undertook a review of the Penal Code, and made recommendations on reforming it.

The fact sheet of the PCRC can be viewed here:

The PCRC outlined the following to the government:

1. Repeal section 309 of the penal code.

2. Empower the police and the civil defence force to intervene immediately to prevent harm and loss of life from suicide attempts. The police shall retain their current powers of search and forced entry through a new provision in the Police Force Act.

3. Retain police powers to apprehend persons who are suspected of having a mental disorder, for the purpose of referring them to medical practitioners for assessment. Medical practitioners and the courts are able to compel treatment if necessary.

4. Mandatory reporting of attempted suicide no longer applies but the community is encouraged to report cases.

5. Retain police powers to seize evidence in cases where a suicide death occurred and a coroner’s inquiry is launched.

6. The abetment or assistance of suicide should remain an offence.

The recommendations were agreed to.

The complete report can be viewed here. The review of the law as well as recommendations to decriminalise attempted suicide are on pages 336 - 347.

Will the Malaysian public get to view the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ study regarding decriminalisation of attempted suicide which Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said his ministry had received?

He said the results of the study would be discussed in an engagement session with stakeholders, including the Home Ministry, the police, the Malaysian armed forces and the AGC before being presented to the Cabinet.

But aren’t the public a stakeholder? For an all encompassing approach to the decriminalisation of attempted suicide, they are.

Hafiz Hassan reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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