Amendments to the Penal Code, comprising the repeal of Section 309 (Attempt to commit suicide), will commence on 1 January 2020.
What has changed?
In its recommendations, the Penal Code Review Committee (PCRC) outlined the following and they were passed by the Singapore Parliament:
1. Empower the Police and the SCDF to intervene immediately to prevent harm and loss of lives from suicide attempts. The Police shall retain their current powers of search and forced entry through a new provision in the Police Force Act.
2. Retain the powers of the Police to apprehend persons who attempt suicide and who are reasonably suspected of having a mental disorder, for the purpose of referring them to medical practitioners for assessment. Medical practitioners and the courts are able to compel treatment if necessary.
3. Mandatory reporting of attempted suicide no longer applies but the community is encouraged to report cases.
4. Retain the powers of the Police to seize evidence in cases where a suicide death occured and a Coroner’s Inquiry is launched.
5. The abetment or assistance of suicide still remains an offence.
The complete report can be found here.
Suicide as a health and social problem
Suicide remains an inherently complex behaviour, with no one definitive cause. It is often difficult to explain exactly how people facing a crisis perceive and interpret their daily lives as it usually includes a deep sense of despair, helplessness, hopelessness and a sense of being overwhelmed with the loss of meaning in one’s life.
More often than not, people contemplating suicide are in a state of ambivalence - wanting to end the pain they are experiencing, but not necessarily ending their lives. When left with their thoughts alone, they may develop a tunnel vision where they are no longer able to see outside of their desperate situation, unable to see other options, or believing that anything but ending their lives will help.
People experiencing a high suicide crisis are aware but are rarely deterred by the existence of the law.
The criminalisation of suicide attempts may have resulted in under-reported or hidden cases of suicide attempts which may in turn give the false impression that suicidal behaviours are less prevalent. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that for each suicide death, there are up to 20 others who have attempted to take their own lives.
With the latest amendment to the Penal Code, the decriminalisation of suicide may encourage more to recognise their struggles and to seek help early without the fear of prosecution.
Suicide prevention as a community
The death from suicide never affects only the individual and their family members. It extends beyond to include friends, colleagues and even caregivers. Those greatly affected by a suicide loss are sometimes at an increased risk for harbouring thoughts of, planning or attempting suicide.
With the amendments to the penal code, the focus shall be on the well-being on the distressed individual. The fear of prosecution shall no longer delay treatment and prevent early intervention. The law shall encourage early help-seeking or referring distressed individuals to mental health agencies or institutions.
Beyond that, the role media plays in suicide prevention is often overlooked. Media representations of suicide affect audiences by shaping their perception of information regarding suicide. Copycat suicide behaviours, and over-identification are possible detrimental consequences due to insensitive representations or sensationalising suicide in media.
In this regard, media agencies shall continue to adhere to responsible media guidelines when it comes to media reports on suicide. For a start, the term “commit suicide” should be replaced by “died by suicide”. Full media guidelines can be found here.
What shall we do now?
Let’s focus more on helping the distressed out of their struggles and less of worrying about the consequences.
If you feel you or someone you know may be at immediate risk of harming yourself, call 995 or approach the A&E department of your nearest hospital.
Not sure what to do when someone is in distress? Read about how you can help here.
KNOW SOMEONE WHO MAY BE FACING A CRISIS OR GOING THROUGH A TOUGH TIME? LEARN WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP SOMEONE IN CRISIS, OR FIND OUT MORE ABOUT OUR SERVICES HERE.