Stop criminaliZing suicide attempts, MMHA urges

KUCHING: Malaysia must stop making suicide attempts a criminal act by amending or repealing Section 309 of the Penal Code, said Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) today.

MMHA president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said Malaysia remains one of the few countries in the world that continues to maintain archaic laws that penalise individuals who survive suicide attempts.

Upon conviction, Section 309 of the Penal Code carries a punishment of a year in jail or a fine, or both.

“Just last year, Parliament was informed that the Attorney General’s (AG) Chambers was studying possible amendments to laws related to suicide.

“Yet, this week, a Magistrate’s Court fined an unemployed man who had attempted to commit suicide RM3,000 and three months in jail, if he failed to pay the fine.

“Just two months ago, a 42-year-old man who attempted suicide by stabbing himself from fragments from a broken glass window was sentenced to one month in prison,” he said in a statement.

Dr Andrew, who is a board member of the World Federation for Mental Health, pointed out that Singapore decriminalised suicide in January this year but Malaysia continued to drag its feet over the issue despite concerns expressed by the Malaysia Law Reform Committee as well as leaders of mental health organisations in the country.

According to him, more than 90 per cent of people attempting suicide suffer from major psychiatric illness like Clinical Depression Bipolar Disorder or a psychotic illness.

Given this, he said they should be considered victims of their own psychiatric condition.

“In case of any doubts, a psychiatric examination prior to the court proceeding to convict a person under Section 309 would have been the preferred course of action.”

He observed that Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) allowed the Magistrate to order the charged person to be assessed for a period of one month at a designated psychiatric facility pending a submission of a report by the psychiatrist before the trial proceeded.

He said the Magistrate may then sentence the charged person to time already served in the psychiatric ward and ordered to comply with the psychiatric follow up as appropriate.

“There would be no need for a prison term or a fine. This way, justice can be tempered with mercy,” he added.

“This discussion is not just about decriminalisation of suicide. This is also a plea for Malaysia to move more towards a compassionate society by destigmatising mental illness and safeguarding the interests of persons with mental illness and their families.

“Malaysia needs to widen its direction in mental health, beyond the scope of looking at it as a mere health issue,” he asserted.

Dr Andrew said a multi-sectoral approach involving government agencies, the corporate sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and academia was needed to address mental health issues, which were increasingly becoming pertinent in the lives of all Malaysians and not just those with severe mental illness.

Source: The Borneo Post

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