World Suicide Prevention Day: Decriminalising Suicide In Malaysia

By Sarah Hannan

World Suicide Prevention Day: Decriminalising Suicide In Malaysia

September 10th, 2021 at 5:40 am

The recent revelation made by the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) on the cases of suicides recorded between January to May 2021, which amounted to 468, has turned the spotlight on the rising number of suicides amid the pandemic. In comparison to the annual total of 631 cases in 2020 and 609 cases in 2019, which averaged about two cases per day, this year, the average cases per day have almost doubled.

 

According to PDRM, the main reasons behind these incidents had been financial difficulties caused by debt, emotional pressure, and troubled family relationships.

 

The Ministry of Health meanwhile stated that in 2020, a total of 1,080 cases of persons who attempted suicide received treatment at government hospitals.

 

Director General of Health, Tan Sri Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah, issuing a statement noted that the pandemic has severely impacted the mental health of people. He had further noted that certain individuals are more susceptible to mental health problems when they are disconnected from their support networks, such as friends and family, due to the ongoing movement control orders, and would experience episodes of depression that could even lead to suicide.

 

Suicide Is Criminalised In Malaysia

Malaysia being a country with a Muslim majority considers it a sin to take any life including one’s own. Moreover, as an attempt to deter persons from taking their lives, the government has criminalised suicide under Section 309 of the Penal Code, where anyone who attempts to commit suicide and fails would be imprisoned for a term extending up to a year or imposed a fine or will be subjected to imprisonment and imposed a fine.

 

The law enacted in 1936 originated from the Indian Penal Code that was based on the British Common Law. While many other countries in the region that adopted the Colonial common law has by now repealed or has modified the section, we have yet to follow suite.

 

The country’s Psychiatric and Mental Health Services Operational Policy, while recognising suicide attempts as a mental health issue that needs treatment, indicates that when an individual who attempted suicide is referred for medical care, they should be placed under strict supervision until they are considered to be in a stable condition and would not harm themselves.

 

However, Section 309 does not indicate that the individual should be referred to medical or psychological care after or during sentencing. Which calls for its immediate repeal or appropriate modification by concerned citizens.

 

Since suicide is criminalised by law, it may also discourage individuals from reaching out to counselling services or suicide prevention helplines, fearing that their situation would be compromised and they would have to face legal action.

 

Decriminalising Suicide Is Suicide Prevention

For many years, the civil society, mental health specialists and various other non-governmental agencies have been pushing for the decriminalisation of suicide in Malaysia. Highlighting the importance of decriminalising suicide, and the progress that the authorities have made so far towards achieving it, Bar Council Law Reform & Special Areas Committee Co-Chairman and National Coalition of Mental Wellbeing member, Datuk Seri M. Ramachelvam, noted that; “The World Health Organisation has called upon the countries around the world to decriminalise suicide, therefore the moment is now, and we should not delay anymore”.

 

Adding that, in 2012 the government’s Law Reform Committee conducted a study on reviewing the penal code section 309, and in the same year the then Minister of Health had stated that suicide should be decriminalised.

 

Ramachelvam also stated that, in 2019, the Minister of Law had said that a bill would be presented in Parliament to repeal Section 309 of the Penal Code, which was supposed to have happened in 2020. While in 2020 the federal government had said that the Attorney General’s chamber was studying various jurisdictions on the issue of decriminalising suicide.

 

Ramachelvam further noted that; “People who are contemplating suicide or who have attempted suicide never gets reported to relevant mental health authorities through the doctors or family members. Because if the incident gets reported there will be a potential criminal charge over the person who attempted suicide and survived. The stigma caused by the criminalisation of the act itself can deter the individual from seeking and receiving mental health related care, counselling or rehabilitative care”.

 

According to Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Consultant Psychiatrist at the National University of Malaysia, Dr. Lai Fong Chan, criminalising suicide does not act as a deterrent to prevent somebody from attempting suicide, and can actually have a negative effect, as it marginalises people who are in distress, from accessing help from mental health services.

 

Adding that; “When someone is in acute suicidal crisis, somebody who is crying out for help in that distress, it’s unthinkable that you would dangle this punishment as a deterrent saying ‘you are going to prison’. Emotional distress is not best dealt with a prison sentence”.

 

Dr. Chan pointed out that there are already laws in place in the Mental Health Act that if someone is suspected to have mental health issues that puts the individual at risk of their own safety, PDRM and the registered social workers have the mandate to bring such persons to a mental health service provider or to a health service provider for assessment and care.

 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please contact the Befrienders at 03-76272929.

 

Sign and share this petition to decriminalise suicide in Malaysia.

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