In light of the recent call to repeal Section 377A – the law that criminalizes consensual sex between two men – another law has been highlighted: Section 309 of the Penal Code, the law that attempted suicide is punishable with a year’s jail, or fine, or both.
Initially unaware of such a law in Singapore, I first came across the knowledge after reading a Facebook post by a person whose friend knew a girl who had tried to commit suicide. She was, accordingly, “handcuffed, and kept in a cell overnight where she slept shivering on the bare blue floor. She was brought to IMH the next night, in restraints so tight it numbed her hands, before finally, was she sent back to be released on bail.”
As someone suffering from anxiety and depression, and someone who has almost tried to take her life once before, reading the post felt like someone had punched me in the gut. It hurt in such a raw and visceral way that I had to turn my phone off for a few hours in order to get my emotions straight.
However, despite the hurt I felt in discovering that such a law existed in my country, after digging a little deeper, I have come to an understanding of why some Singaporeans may see it as necessary.
Is Section 309 Strictly Enforced?
According to Singapore Legal Advice: “it is rarely enforced in reality. This is so as not to aggravate the already delicate emotional well-being of the suicidal person. Therefore, a person who attempts suicide and fails is rarely punished.”
Abetting suicide (the act of encouraging another person to commit suicide) is also illegal, whereby there is a fine and a jail term of up to 10 years – especially so if it is motivated by malicious intentions.
The Proposition To Repeal The Law
According to this Straits Time article, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) called for a repeal of Chapter 16, Section 309 of the penal code. Instead of punishing those who tried to commit suicide, they stated that “measures such as providing psychological first-aid training to police officers and setting up a specialised unit within the police force that is specially trained to respond to suicide attempts.”
According to another TODAY Online article, “the committee tasked to review the Penal Code noted that “there is a growing recognition that treatment, not prosecution” is the appropriate response for such cases.”
“The committee pointed out that the law — which is a 19th century provision — exists “because it was thought that criminalisation was the best way to deter suicide attempts”.
From both articles and the Singapore Legal Advice’s page, they have stated that the actual enforcement of the law is “rare”.
In decriminalising suicide, the reviewing committee proposed a number of changes in order to fully help those who tried to do so. These changes include empowering police officers to immediately intervene to prevent harm or loss of life amongst others.
My Two Cents
After reading through all of the articles stated above, as well as various stories detailing the events of a person who had tried to commit suicide but failed, I believe that the law should be amended.
I’m going to tap into my own experiences and belief in this part. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression for a good chunk of her life, I know what it feels like to think that the only way to get rid of the pain is through dying.
Let me get this straight: suicide is not a selfish act. That does not mean that I am agreeing with something as devastating as the act of taking one’s own life – but I know how pain alters the mind.
Rather than seeing it as a selfish thing, I see it as a last resort of someone who has suffered too long and has given up on finding any hope to continue living.
It is not selfishness that drives suicide – it is the need to heal, to feel relief – albeit in an incredibly warped way.
Perhaps Section 309 has indeed deterred some people from committing suicide – but for most suicidal people, do you really think that the threat of being put in jail if they fail is any different? They want to die – what makes you think that they care about whether they are put into jail or not?
When I first read about this code, it made me angry and sad. Criminalising suicide implies that those who are suffering from mental illnesses have a choice in it – as though we can actually decide whether we want to be depressed or not.
In my opinion, treatment is much better than prosecution.
The Significance Of The Amendment
If this law is amended, then it means a step in the right direction for Singapore’s understanding of mental health and mental illnesses. It means that our government has begun to understand more about a subject that has been swept under the rug for many years.
It means more awareness and discussion about something that plagues millions of people around the world.
I believe that our country can learn and do all these things. Perhaps it will take some time, and that’s okay. The need to collectively decide on how to be better should be something that we, as a country, take a step towards.