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THE amendment made to the country’s Penal Code (Act 574) to decriminalise attempted suicide is welcomed. This move is a positive step in addressing this highly complex and sensitive issue.

It is time that we deal with the
issue of suicide attempts instead of imposing heavy penalties on offenders, who are themselves victims.

On Monday, the Dewan Rakyat unanimously approved amendments to decriminalise attempted suicides. Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Legal and Institutional Reforms) Ramkarpal Singh said the amendments include four clauses, one of which is the removal of Section 309 of the Penal Code (Act 574), effectively eliminating attempted suicide as a criminal offence.

Section 309, a provision dating back to the 19th century, was initially established to prevent suicides by criminalising them. However, the abolition of Section 309 of the Penal Code (Act 574) marks a significant milestone in suicide prevention efforts.

This amendment aims to promote a more supportive environment, encouraging individuals in need of assistance to seek help and support.

Furthermore, this amendment will play a crucial role in eradicating the stigma associated with suicide attempts and reducing the overall suicide rate.

Recognising that adequate treatment is the most effective approach to addressing this issue, the focus should be on providing support rather than prosecution.

Under the previous provision, Section 309 imposed penalties of up to a year in jail, a fine, or both upon conviction for attempted suicide.

Individuals who attempt suicide can be severely affected. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 700,000 people lose their lives to suicide each year.

The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, coupled with economic uncertainty and rising living costs, has further contributed to the alarming suicide statistics.

Suicide can have a devastating and profound impact on families and the community. It is a serious public health concern that demands careful handling through professional support, care and treatment.

We must treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves and take appropriate steps to address it.

Imposing strict laws and harsh punishments on individuals contemplating suicide will not resolve the matter.

On the contrary, such measures can exacerbate the situation for
the individuals, adding additional pressure and potentially pushing them further towards taking their own lives to avoid arrest and punishment.

Section 309 states that: “Whoever attempts to commit suicide, and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of up to one year, a fine, or both.”

The government’s decision to abolish this section is a commendable step. It is essential to recognise that individuals in a sound state of mind would not harbour the desire to end their own lives.

Those who contemplate suicide are typically facing significant mental or emotional problems that require attention and support.

From the outset, attempted suicide should never have been treated as a criminal offence. Instead, it should have been recognised as a distress call, a plea for assistance.

It is evident, individuals who attempt suicide are in desperate need of both our support and attention. In addition to the amendment, it is essential for every member of the community to contribute their part in addressing this critical issue.

There are many non–governmental organisations in the country that are readily available to provide assistance in such cases.

Considering the recent legal progress, it would be prudent for
the government to contemplate establishing a dedicated agency or institution that can offer prompt psychological support to those
in need.

Such an initiative would ensure immediate assistance is accessible to individuals requiring it.

Dr Muzaffar Syah Mallow, Associate Professor, Faculty of Syariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia. Comments: