[EXCLUSIVE] Yeoh: Criminalising suicide bid archaic

Aliza Shah

KUALA LUMPUR: SECTION 309 of Penal Code, which criminalises suicide, is archaic and should be reviewed as it doesn’t stop anyone from committing it, said Deputy Women, Community and Family Development Minister Hannah Yeoh.

Yeoh, who was against the law on suicide, said those who survived a suicide attempt should not be treated like criminals, unless their action caused injuries to others.

“(I am saying) ‘no’ to criminalising suicide for now, unless, of course, the attempt causes injuries to others,” she said via WhatsApp in response to the New Sunday Times’ front-page exclusive yesterday.

The two-page feature questioned whether suicide was a crime or a cry for help from victims.

Malaysia is one of the remaining few countries that criminalises suicide. Section 309 of the Penal Code stated that whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to one year or with fine, or both.

It is understood that Malaysia’s law against suicide is adopted from India, but the latter has decriminalised the act.

India’s lower house of Parliament had in March passed the Mental Healthcare Bill 2016, which does not make suicide a crime.

The bill considers a suicide survivor to be under extreme stress when committing the act, and he shall not be punished for it.

“Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code,” said the Bill.

It defines mental illness as “a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs”.

Mental health experts dealing with suicidal people believed that they should be given help and their action was more of a cry for help.

Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (Miasa) president Anita Abu Bakar said the law on suicide should be amended to differentiate between a criminal act or a cry for help, while Malaysian Psychiatric Association president Professor Dr Nor Zuraida Zainal said imprisoning survivors would not solve the problem.

Instead, those who attempt suicide should be placed under the care of psychiatrists.

Yeoh said Malaysia lagged behind in terms of providing mental health rehabilitation programmes.

“It is difficult to find homes for mental patients, not to lock them away but for rehabilitation and restoration.”

In fact, she added that many Malaysians were unaware of their mental health condition and did not know how to handle stress. They were also not informed about seeking help.

“We are trying to raise awareness among the people. About 30 per cent of Malaysians have mental health problems.”

The public, too, is in agreement that the government should review the legislation.

Sham Lee, responding to the New Sunday Times report via Facebook, said people who attempted suicide needed help as they had failed to find a solution for their problems.

“Huh? People attempted suicide due to several reasons, mostly monetary and love, as they could not find a way out of their predicament. Wouldn’t counselling and helping them out be more appropriate rather than punishing them?”

Matthew Peak agreed with Lee, saying those with suicidal thoughts must be referred to professionals, who can help them cope with their problems.

“Help, not prison! Why not get them a professional who can help, not a prison guard who couldn't care less?”

Another Netizen, Jody Lim, said knowing that there was a possibility of being jailed if a suicide attempt failed would only spur suicidal people to make sure that their intention was carried out successfully.

“Disagree. The moment before someone jumps, his world is dark. If he changes his mind, his world becomes the brightest. It’s proven. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

“What you are doing is, when their world is dark, you are not giving them enough support. When their world turns bright, you lock them up. In short, I better make sure I die if I want to kill myself.”

Shasha Ali said the government should conduct more awareness programmes and educate the public not to stigmatise those with mental health issues.

“You should investigate the reason that person attempted suicide. (Do you) think by putting them in prison would help? They will attempt it again.

“Why not educate the psychiatrists, doctors and launch awareness campaigns so that people will not badmouth or stigmatise the victims (those with mental health problems)?

“They are all part of the reason why the victims avoid getting help and commit suicide.” © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd