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Govt to decriminalise suicide

Publish date: Wed, 22 Mar 2023, 10:46 PM

KUALA LUMPUR: The act of attempting suicide will soon be decriminalised, with the amendments to the law to be made in the current Dewan Rakyat sitting.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Ramkarpal Singh said the government would be tabling amendments to abolish Section 309 of the Penal Code.

Under Section 309, those found attempting suicide could be jailed up to a year or fined or both.

"The government is finalising this. As of December 2022, I have chaired 10 engagement sessions and meetings with stakeholders such as government agencies, lawmakers to resolve the matter.

"As a next step, a cabinet memorandum will be presented for approval and all related bills will be tabled in Parliament for debate and passed," the Dewan Rakyat heard today.

Ramkarpal, who is also Bukit Gelugor member of Parliament, said based on summaries from the engagement sessions, the government would also need to amend the Mental Health Act 2001.

"At the moment, there is an issue with defining a person who attempts suicide, and this can cause problems with efforts to try to save the person.

"To ease this, the mental health act must be amended to allow enforcement officers to immediately save the person who attempts suicide, and bring the individual to hospital for evaluation within 24 hours."

He said this when responding to a question from Dr Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen (Pakatan Harapan-Bandar Kuching), who had asked the government to state the progress made on amending Section 309 of the Penal Code.

In a supplementary question, Datuk Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh (Perikatan Nasional-Besut) had asked the need to repeal Section 309, when there was Section 342 under the Criminal Procedure Code, which laid out a procedure of handling someone of unsound mind.

To this, Ramkarpal clarified that Section 309 of the Penal Code had different intentions from Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

"Section 342 is used to evaluate someone's mental state before the person makes a plea in court before a court proceeding, while Section 309 criminalises attempted suicide," he added.

On a related matter, Ramkarpal said the number of people facing mental health issues had increased since the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said calls to the Health Ministry's Psychosocial support hotline had increased by five times from 44,061 calls in 2020 to 212,319 calls in 2021.

Calls to decriminalise suicide began in 2020. In 2021, the Health Ministry had backed calls to decriminalise suicide attempts, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic had led to mental anguish among people around the globe including Malaysians.

During the height of the pandemic and when the country was under lockdown, it was reported that the police had received 638 reports of suicide between January and July 2021, an increase of 143 per cent from the 262 cases reported in the same period in 2020.

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