Punishment for attempted suicide?

Excerpts from A. Asohan’s column of Dec 28:

[I]t was with a great degree of disbelief that I read the news about a 16-year-old girl being charged with attempted suicide in Kuala Terengganu. According to an English-language daily, she was “alleged to have committed the offence” on Nov 21 after a quarrel with her boyfriend. She was charged in the Court for Children earlier this month. She was unrepresented and only accompanied by her mother. The court set Jan 22 next year for mention.

Laws against suicide are an odd duck. They usually fail at any test of logic. Are they supposed to act as a deterrent?

And you can only punish those who have failed – the ones who succeed in their attempt are beyond the long arm of the law. Are these laws supposed to discourage people from contemplating suicide?

I remember reading about this case of charging a youth for attempted suicide. And I remember shaking my head in disbelief too.

I haven’t tried suicide before. Not that I remember. But I imagine that it would take a great deal of courage to attempt it. And normally, it’s that one moment that makes all the difference between taking that final plunge, or coming back to safety.

Now, imagine if we were seriously to punish ALL of those attempted suicide cases. Some of these ‘offenders’, I believe, might end up in hospitals after taking one too many pills of Panadol, or drinking one sip too much of Dettol, or cut-up wrists and what-have-you.

What message would we be sending out to the other depressed people out there?

To be quite honest, I don’t think anyone would be deterred by the impending punishment should they fail in their suicide attempt. More often than not, when someone wants to commit suicide, that person would have lost all hope of life, so why would they care?

If at all, punishing people for attempted suicide will only push them nearer to the edge of that cliff that they’re standing on. Instead of taking 12 pills of Panadol, they’ll make sure they succeed, and take 20. Instead of drinking one bottle of Dettol, they’ll now drink 5. Instead of just cutting their wrists, they’ll now cut their wrists AND jump from their window.

It’s a problem that more and more people are attempting suicide. I know, because I have a few friends who’ve tried. Fortunately, none of them have succeeded so far. Most of them have changed for the better.

But if I have a friend who DOES attempt to kill him/herself, I’ll hope that he/she doesn’t succeed, and that family and friends will be there to help him/her pull through. I hope the police will NOT arrest my friend and treat my friend like a criminal.

Laws against suicide lack compassion. And sometimes it’s compassion that keeps people from taking that final plunge to nowhere.


6 Comments on “Punishment for attempted suicide?”

  1. de minimis says:

    Hi Michelle

    Suicide is a touchy subject. It is regarded as a sin in almost all religions because life is considered sacred. This is probably the basis for most countries having laws that deem attempted and assisted suicides to be a crime.

    I do see your point about the absurdity of the law. I also share your perplexity about the law being enforced against an obviously depressed person who resort to suicide.

    Perhaps the reasonable view should be that attempted and assisted suicide should be maintained as a criminal act as a social deterrent, but, the authorities should be extremely sensitive to the suicidal person who obviously has deep-seated psychological issues. Such a person needs to be detained temporarily for counselling and rehabilitation. They need to be reached out to and, not be ostracised.
    I think you’re right in saying that the authorities should be extremely sensitive when dealing with cases like this. Perhaps they could consider having trained counselors on their team, or at least deal closely with a team of trained counselors when they come across such cases.

  2. Gladfly says:

    de minimis wrote that ‘…most countries having laws that deem attempted and assisted suicides to be a crime.’ My understanding is that modern statues have ceased criminalising suicides and attempted suicides. For example, it was no longer a criminal offence to attempt suicide in UK since 1961.

    Suicidal behaviour related to attempt suicides is more of a cry of pain. The attempters feel a loss of control of external events and internal emotions and thoughts. Most of them suffer from mental illness. The ‘courage’ is more of the loss of restraints in behaviour and an impulse to escape from something disturbing. The lack of social support compounded their loneliness and isolation, besides the cultural aspect of seeking help relating to mental illness as a stigma.

    Suicide attempt could also be a cry of help. However, if the cry of help is interpreted as being manipulative or merely acting, attempters may not be taken seriously. Instrumental suicides do occur. Even so,if someone attempts suicide, they need compassionate help and a listening ear. Seeing suicide attempts as cries of pain is more helpful.

    Punishing suicide attempters could lead to double tragedy. The law that criminalses suicide attempts is based on the assumption that the state knows what is best for the citizen. If the citizens chooses to harm themselves,the state must intervene directly. This paternalistic attitude is rather misplaced. Attempters need medical and psychological help and not punishment.

    I think the legal acts that criminalise suicides should be reviewed and repealed. Citizens should have the right to self-determination of their own fate and what to do with their lives. The cry of pain must not be punishable.

    There is a lack of suicide prevention centres or helplines in Malaysia, besides the lack of awareness of the seriousness of the issue.

    If someones says he/she is suffering from cancer, many people would volunteer to help or give advice. If someone says he/she is thinking of suicides,the help is lacking. People tend to avoid talking about the issues of death and dying. People like to deceive themselves that death is always other people’s problem. Hence, there is lack of attempt to understand suicide attempts.

    When I heard the news that an elderly woman staying on her own had commited suicide in my small town, it is a shock to me why she chooses this ultimate step. I ask, have we done enough ?

    Suicide is preventable in most cases. More awareness is needed.

  3. Janessa says:

    My brother try to commit suicide the other day they called the squad on him they took him to the hospital we heard the news later that evening and we went to the hospital and we walked back but they told my mom, me, my other brother, and his pregnant girlfriend we couldn’t see him because he was suicidal but after they saw my mom about to cry they let us back to see him it wasn’t that bad but it took 7 stiches to sew his cut together and after wards they took him to the crisis part of woodland centers and he spent the night and half of day the police department that responded to the call are trying to press charges on him for attempt suicide!…THE REAL STORY IT WAS ALL OVER A GIRL!!!

    E-mail me at: JanessaLaudermilt1991@yahoo.com
    If you can help me Please i need to find out a way to help my brother from doing the real thing!

  4. niteesh says:

    plz give me the cases in which court have punished person for attempt to suicide …give me atleast 3 cases ….maybe i can help u than what u want …..agreed with ur thought completely ..or give me some land mark cases with complete name and citiation in which its discussed that we have the right to die

  5. Fifa says:

    Hi Michelle, the criminalisation of attempted suicide is idiotic and baseless. See my blog post on suicide at http://msianhealthlawdebates.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-to-reduce-suicide-rates-in-malaysia.html

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