Monday, December 21, 2009

Should Suicidal People Be Penalised? malaysiakini

special report Daniel leads a happy life now, but it was not too long ago that he was ready to give it all up. "I was…young and foolish. Looking back, I think it was very stupid of me," he said.

Daniel, 27, had attempted suicide five years ago, due to family problems, about which he chose not to elaborate.

"I didn't know what else to do. I did not talk to my friends about the problem, and nobody could help me," he said.

Maria, 25, could see no other option when she was faced with family and relationship problems a few years ago.

A mother of one, she said that an overpowering sense of hopelessness pushed her to ingest bleach in an attempt to end her misery.

Today, David and Maria (names changed for reasons of confidentiality) would much rather put the whole episode behind them.

Going strictly by the law, though, they would belong behind bars, for it is illegal to attempt suicide in Malaysia.

fong po kuan and chong chien jen walkout suspended from parliament
 061108 04Daniel said he is unaware of the law but that, looking back to that dark period in his life, it would not have changed his mind.

Instances like this have convinced DAP Batu Gajah parliamentarian Fong Po Kuan that it is time fo repeal of the law against suicide. Speaking in Parliament recently, she said the law only aggravates the matter by pushing those who are suicidal to take more lethal measures.

"So if I want to attempt suicide I will have to make sure that I die or I'll end up in jail," she told Malaysiakini.

Those found guilty of attempting suicide can be punished with a maximum of 10 years' jail or fined up to RM5,000, or both.

Prisons can do more harm

Psychiatrist and medical researcher T Maniam, agreed with Fong, saying he has seen patients prepared to go to greater lengths to ensure they do not fail.

"(They) tell me, 'Oh, if I don't die then I will have to go to prison and undergo more trauma,' so they will make sure that they do not survive, by making a more lethal attempt where rescue is not possible," he said.

Such methods include jumping from a high place, where rescue is less likely compared to slitting the wrists or ingesting chemicals.

Maniam, who has 25 years experience in the study of suicide, also said that some are deterred after hearing about the law.

Regardless, he said sending those with suicidal tendencies to prison does not do them any favours.

"It is harmful ...because prisons cannot be as well-equipped as hospitals to deal with the problem. They can get counseling in prison, but (it) is unlikely to be as comprehensive as that provided in the hospital or medical setting."

'Dormant and archaic law'

Interestingly, the law has been a largely dormant one, with the police choosing not to enforce it in most cases. Singapore, meanwhile, has never enforced the law.

In both countries, the law is a legacy of the British colonial government, but the United Kingdom itself had repealed it in 1961.

Last year, two Malaysians were charged with attempting to commit suicide because of "a spate of suicides and attempted suicides" within a few weeks, according to deputy police chief Ismail Omar .

indon embassy shelter bar council visit 171209 andrew khooJoining the chorus for repeal of the law is Bar-Council human rights committee head Andrew Khoo, who argued that it is simply outdated.

"(The suicide law) is based on the old concept whereby the state owns its citizens," he said.
The archaic nature of the law, he said, does not account for modern methods available today to help those with suicidal tendencies.

Like Maniam, Khoo believes that prison is not the ideal place for those already finding it hard to cope with the pressures of life.

"You are exposing them to the risks in prison where they will have to face criminals and be exposed to further violence," he said.

In addition, Malaysian prisons are ill-equipped to monitor those with suicidal tendencies, with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) only last month suggesting that detectors be put in place to monitor those in custody.

Prison authorities too acknowledge shortcomings in suicide prevention, having welcomed volunteers from the Befrienders to ease their burden.
Shortage of volunteers
But the NGO is finding it too much of a strain, with its chairperson Gangadara Vadivel lamenting a shortage of trained volunteers to counsel prisoners.

NONEPrisoners not fortunate enough to be counselled may face the same fate as detainee J Saravanan (right), who was found dead after hanging himself with a noose made of a towel and pillow case on Nov 15. He had been accused of killing his mother.

While expert opinion leans towards repeal of the law, Maniam feels that the decision should not be made purely by scientifically measuring its effect on suicide rates.

This is because decriminalising suicide will raise theological and psychological questions, which society will have to answer together.
"Can society accept that someone has a right to take his or her own life? Does one's life belong to one alone, or do others like family and society in general have an interest in an individual's life? This is something that we should discuss," he said.

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