Libertatem Magazine

De-criminalizing the Attempt to Suicide

Contents of this Page

But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.

– Albert Camus

A person wants to end his/ her life. What stops him? Little do we realize that everyone should have complete control over one-self. This as conceded by the researcher is a heated area of debating where the stand of the Supreme Court of the India is that the right to life does not essentially include the right to die. There is a very logical argument that the right to do something includes the right not to do that thing, applies equally well to all the fundamental rights. Example sake- the right to carry on trade, profession and business surely includes the right to close down one’s business.

Also the Constitutional validity of the section 309 was challenged in the same case on the basis of article 14 and article 21. It was specifically argued that this particular section violates the equality provision of the constitution. An act, which is considered suicide in certain communities, is considered an act of bravery in other communities. The people who are punished for doing a certain act in one community are not punished in the other community and hence this is a gross violation of the provision of equality.

Coming on to the provision of right to life enshrined in article 21 of the constitution, it as a matter of fact includes the right to live a life of dignity and a mere animal existence is not a life which one should be forced to live under the garb of right to life. A Division Bench of the Supreme Court in P. Rathinam v. Union of India held that the right to live of which Article 21 speaks of can be said to bring in its trail the right not to live a forced life, and therefore, section 309 violates Article 21.

Also the argument that the there is nothing natural in the right to die which is why no one is allowed to die an unnatural death using the modes of strangulation, taking pills, etc. The logic of natural and unnatural is self-destructing because irrespective of the fact that the modes of death are unnatural but the desire to die is not unnatural as such. Death is a natural fact which can in no circumstances be avoided and the desire to embrace it is not illogical or irrational.

The Supreme Court overruled the above two decisions in the case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab. The reasoning was deplorable because it just said certain overt acts done by the person in furtherance of ending his life is not acceptable and cannot as such be included in the ambit of the right to life and cannot be given any constitutional protection.

Generally when one does not wish to live a life, when one is fed-up of the social pressure, when one is frustrated with one’s identity and existence, he/ she should not be forced to live, by the illogical argument that no one has the right to end one’s life because under the right to life does not include the right to die and one has to live irrespective of the trauma that he has to face each day by living this meaningless life imposed upon him.

Now coming on to the arena of psychological and sociological aspects of this phenomenon called suicide. Lesser degrees of mental disorder are present in those who attempt suicide, but it is quite clear from its prevalence in those who engage in suicidal behavior that there is a “window of opportunity” for preventing suicide.

Instead of condemning the person and rebuking him for trying to commit suicide, we should counsel him and treat him as a patient. He should be questioned as politely as possible about the reasons or the triggers. He should be given space and a proper psychological intervention. His state of mind should be the subject matter of study and debate and the personal and social reasons that he ascribes to his taking on to something as extreme as suicide.

After examining the personal reasons, one has to eventually scrutinize the social reasons. As Emile Durkheim puts it, “Suicide is a Social Fact”. He says that suicide more than being a personal thing is triggered by the social events. The research says that excess amount of social equilibrium leads to two extremes of suicide or murder. Emile Durkheim’s threefold classification of suicides made on the basis of the disturbance in the relationship between society and the individual: (i) Egoistic suicide which results when abnormal individualism weakens society’s control over him; the individual in such cases lacks concern for the community with which he is inadequately involved; (ii) Altruistic suicide which is due to an excessive sense of duty to community; and (iii) Anomic suicide which is due to society’s failure to control and regulate the behavior of individuals.

These days religious scriptures are coming back into motion when such topics as suicide are taken into account. Generally the religions such as Hinduism, Islam and Christianity do not allow suicide. The only argument is that since that supreme entity is the one who gave us life has the full and only right to take it back from us.

For the sake of brevity I would just discuss two religions, which have seemingly opposite views on the issue in question. Hinduism on one hand seriously condemns suicide. It says that it brings social stigma onto the family of the person who committed suicide. Also suicide is allowed if it is done by self-immolation, starving or by entering the caves and suffocate yourself to death. This approach as seen in the scriptures is very damaging to the argument of sanctity of life. On the other hand Buddhism says that life is precious but if you are in pain and suffering and you can’t continue with it, then there is no harm in ending it and does not condemn it unlike other religions. But these instances should be in the rarest of the rare circumstances when it leads to non-attachment.

Hence religion as an institution does not take a definite stand on the issue of suicide. They do not completely go against it but do not side it also. The religions have a confused outlook. Suicide if seen from the point of view of the religion is very society centric where people decide that this act of self-killing is acceptable and the other one is rebuked without realizing the fact that they are focusing on the ideology developed by the society and completely ignoring what is the actual problem with the person.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention (hereinafter referred as IASP) has also expressed the view that attempted suicide should be decriminalized and that suicidal individuals need to be helped and imprisonment only makes their problems worse.

The argument given by the bodies such as WHO and the IASP is that because of fear of getting imprisonment and other social stigmas attached to this social fact, the people who have suicidal tendencies do not approach any of these organizations for any help. Also most of the cases of failed suicide result in the argument of accidental and wrong medication and it is then when these people need an advanced level of moral support, counseling and other help, they do not come out in front of the world with their problem so get any help because of being penalized.

The only two arguments against the idea of de-criminalization of attempt to suicide are that there will be an increase in the no. of suicides and that removing this provision will make other provisions void.

There are no indications whatsoever that there was an increase in suicides following decriminalization, and in many instances it is thought that suicide decreased since more suicidal individuals received the help they need. Countries such as Singapore, which still imprison some suicide attempters, do not appear to have any benefits from those practices. For example, in Singapore suicide rates have been increasing in recent years despite there having suicide as a punishable offence.

The second of the two arguments is baseless because the very argument is that everyone has autonomy over one’s body and not anyone else’s body. Therefore, if someone incites the other to commit suicide or just leads someone into committing suicide is not covered under the ambit of right over one’s body. It is just like the state should not be allowed to interfere with the natural rights of a person, no other citizen should be allowed to do so.

Hence the researcher would like to conclude by saying that this inhuman provision of penalizing the attempt to suicide is repealed and now we are at par with other countries such as the UK, etc. This gives an indication that the government of India recognizes Human Rights and instead of believing in the theory of deterrence with fear, it believes in the concept of discouragement with moral support.

About the Author