KUCHING, Sept 12 — It is high time for Malaysia to repeal Section 309 of the Penal Code which criminalises those who made suicide attempts, said psychiatrist Dr Ravivarma Rao Panirselvam.
The psychiatry expert from Miri Hospital said suicide attempts have drawn a lot of attention on social media and the individuals involved were already very distressed akin to a health crisis.
He explained that, under Section 309 of the Penal Code, those who did not succeed in their suicide attempts could face charges and penalties.
He pointed to many other countries that had already done away with criminalising suicide attempts. Malaysia, he said, is among the few nations which still keep this particular law.
“It (suicide attempt) is a painful moment. Sometimes, when a person is in suicide crisis, the person who could be in a severely depressed and psychotic state cannot make a decision.
“When a robbery happens, we catch and punish the person who robs others to serve as a deterrent. By decriminalising suicide, we are not encouraging suicide because global research has proven that the deterrent effect of criminalising suicide does not exist,” he explained during a webinar yesterday.
The webinar entitled ‘Awareness of Suicide Issues in conjunction with World Suicide Prevention Day’ was organised by Sarawak Social Development Council.
According to Dr Ravivarma, some people who are in a distress state may feel scared of seeking help or being judged.
If a suicide attempt is reported, the police will take action under the existing law, he said.
“We are not faulting anyone in the criminal justice system as they are not doing something wrong because it is the law. And the law is putting them in a difficult situation of what to do.”
He said a suicide attempt case was bound to attract media attention and this would give too much pressure on the suicidal person and putting them behind bars can be dangerous.
“We hope that the stigma of seeking help can be reduced. We shall also avoid the dangerous consequences of unnecessary imprisonment,” he said.
Dr Ravivarma hoped that elected representatives will bring up the matter in Parliament with an ultimate aim of decriminalising suicide.
He said decriminalising suicide is just one step as it will take a longer time to stop suicidal attempts and prevent suicide.
To effectively address the issue, he said a national plan and a state plan must be in place to have a surveillance system and suicide registry.
He added: “We need to improve access to mental health services.”
He also suggested media guidelines in reporting suicide cases.
“We have found some media reports on suicide which carry detailed methods and places where it happened as well as traumatising photos.
“This is problematic reporting because the media report that is put out there can be consumed by someone is who going through a crisis and may actually see that as a resort,” he added.
Dr Ravivarma said he is not saying that suicide should not be reported but there is an approach to go about.
“We shall help the public understand the issue and how to prevent it. A safe report will have positive narrative to help people solve crisis in a positive way,” he said, adding that criminalising suicide impedes suicide prevention. — Borneo Post