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Decriminalization of Attempt of Suicide

Attempt to suicide in a layman's understanding is trying to kill oneself, here it can even be understood or be referred to as a failed suicide attempt on nonfatal suicide attempt but this understanding is subjected to debate. The debate over the IPC section 309 which was a British era law promulgated when killing or attempting to kill oneself was considered as a crime against the state.

But in the modern era, we know about the mental health issues and the entire cloud around it there are many mental health experts who have demanded the removal of section 309 of IPC for de criminalization of attempt to suicide. Ever since the mental health care act it has been a constant debate of whether under section 309 of IPC is fair or not the mental healthcare act has virtually made attempt to suicide punishable only in cases of exceptions. the Supreme Court has also recommended to the parliament that they should consider the pros and cons and give a thought about removing the section a bench headed by Justice Chandrachud in 2018 held that it was inhuman to punish a person who was already stressed and will be seeking to get rid of his life by means of committing suicide and these judgements have come after the 1996 constitutional bench judgement which upheld the validity of the section, As per the lines of the mental healthcare act 2017 attempting suicide is no longer a crime in our country the act states that any person who attempts suicide shall be presumed to be distressed unless it is been proven otherwise and in this case, they will not be tried under the existing section 309 of the IPC. It also states about how the government is bound to provide healthcare treatment and other resources to the person who attempts suicide so that they can be prevented from attempting the same in future.
The shift in position from 'legal' to a 'medical' cases of attempted suicide

Yeah we need to keep in mind that attempting suicide is much more common than the person actually losing his life to the act. Ones with suicidal tendencies often repeat non-fatal suicidal behaviour over time, when in the end some of them eventually, end up committing suicide. There are a few countries around the globe who have decriminalised suicide attempts however in our country it is still an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code. The most common reason for attempting suicide often constitutes of psychiatric illness which results in the person inhibiting a lot of non-fatal suicidal behaviour.

These can be because of depression, stress or any other mental disorder. Other factors for a person to consider about attempting suicide be it adults or youth can be the adversities they have been through or are going through in their lives, this ranges from sexual or physical abuse, use of drugs or alcohol, stressful life events can even constitute of a death of a loved one, loss of job or relationship, financial crisis, criminal trial or even because of an illness that they have been diagnosed[1] from hence here we can be seen that the reason for attempting suicide ranges from a vast variety of subjects and has to be understood taking in consideration how it is affecting the person in question.

Researchers believe that people who attempt suicide are more in need of help than punishment, keeping in mind their psychological indisposition or psychiatric illness punishment is not the answer in these cases.

Thus philosophical dilemmas surrounding the person's right to life that has been debated here and in convincingly across several disciplines with different outlook and perspectives. This article reviews India's perspective on the attempt to suicide talking about the consequences of section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.

As per the constitution of India in accordance with Article 21, it is clearly mentioned that no person shall be deprived of their life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. Here when the constitution is covering the ambit of right to life and liberty it is not including the right to die hence the right on the attempt of taking one's own life is not considered to fall under the ambit of the constitutional provision of the right to life.

On coming to section 309 of the Indian Penal Code there it is clearly stated that whoever attempts to commit suicide or tries to act towards the commission of such an offence is liable to be punished by means of simple imprisonment or a fine. Here the imprisonment may extend to the term of one year. Various debates are going around in the context of section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.

As this offence comes under the category of crimes defined under chapter xvi of the Indian Penal Code which means it is included in the section with the other crimes in the category are those which are committed to the human body of the other person. The act of attempt to suicide is to be inferred from the circumstances and facts of the case but the intention maybe unclear or ambiguous in many of these cases.

We need to keep it in mind that the Indian Penal Code came into its existence during the time of the British rule and it was then governed by the British law of that time ironically it is observed that India till today continues to follow the disordered provision even though Britain itself has decriminalised suicide way back in the 1960s. One more point made clear is that repairing of section 309 of the Indian penal code will not affect the impact the sections on abatement of completed suicide that is section 306 of the Indian Penal Code and section 305 of the Indian Penal Code which talks about abetment of suicide of a child.

The action at law and also the imposition of custodial and financial penalties on those convicted of suicidal behaviours constitute an affront to human dignity. during an oversized majority, the suicidal behaviour is usually a symbol of psychiatric illness or is an act of psychological distress, indicating that the person requires assistance in his personal and psychological life, not punishment by fine and/or imprisonment. As many as 93% of suicide attempters were found to be psychiatrically ill at the time of the commission of the act, though a psychiatric contact was established by only 33-50% of them. Penal sanctions will only serve to exacerbate suicidal persons' risk for depression, anxiety, and repetitive suicidal behaviour.

Further, many times, the suicidal behaviours are often results of a bunch of things, form of which are outside a person's control, like endogenous biological causes, socioeconomic causes like poverty, frustration gaga, setbacks in finances, family or other such reasons. Technically, it's visiting not be considered as an offence against the state. On the contrary, the state itself is additionally indirectly in command of the plight of the victim who is left with no other alternative, except but to complete his life.

In Indian context, the cases admitted after attempted suicide should have a 'medico-legal' stamp on the case record which is confidential and kept in safe custody. The Medical Superintendent of the hospital is required to tell the police for the mandatory procedure and action. The police usually visit the hospital and collect information about the circumstances of the suicide attempt from the person/family. There are often unnecessary delays or perhaps refusals from hospitals, fear of punitive action and added trauma and stigma of preparing to accommodate police and courts. the subsequent case demonstrates the tough reality and untoward consequences of criminalizing suicide for the individual and family.

Take for instance a man attempts suicide by consuming something poisonous but later on was found by the family and was taken to a hospital. The hospital refused to admit him due to fear of legal hassles related to attempted suicide; finally, the members of the family took him to another hospital and had to report the case as accidental overdose so on avoid further delay. From a legal perspective, what happens to the present person just in case his life is saved? he's, then, prosecuted for a criminal offence under section 309 IPC!

Most importantly, as a majority of attempted suicides are reported to the authorities to be accidental, that the mandatory emotional and standing support isn't available to people that have attempted suicide. With decriminalization, the patients and their families are visiting be during a more robust position to openly seek status care after the attempt. From a societal perspective, decriminalization could even be a more sensitive and humane way of managing the matter compared to prosecution.

Additionally, it'll also help in improving the reporting and generation of upper epidemiological data on suicidality. The criminalization of suicidal acts causes the matter of suicide to travel underground, making it difficult for suicidal persons to receive the necessary assistance. Improved and accurate statistics can help in better planning and resource allocation for efforts towards suicide prevention.

Conclusion
Even if the proposed mental state Care Bill is implemented as a law in near future in India, some issues have to be deliberated in additional detail. Section 124 states that the person is also exempt from punishment and not 'prosecution'. an opportunity will remain that the police can remand an individual who attempted suicide in custody and produce before a magistrate since the presumption of the law is that the 'person with attempted suicide features a psychopathy.

A magistrate has powers (under Section 111 of the Bill) to work out that someone with a psychological state is conveyed to a public mental state establishment for assessment/treatment for up to 10 days. Therefore, the persons with attempted suicide may continue to hesitate in seeking medical treatment after a suicidal attempt, due to perceived fear of possible institutionalization against their own will. Other issues associated with possible misuse of above provision may arise e.g. just in case of victims of attempted suicide within the background of violence.

Whether the decriminalization of suicidal attempts should be done through a separate amendment (rather than as a part of mental state care bill) with more careful consideration of varied relevant issues which can arise within the context of suicide attempts, remains a hospitable debate. With a shift in official position from 'legal' to a 'medical' model of attempted suicide, a crucial challenge from a policy perspective is going to be to produce access to psychological state take care of all those with attempted suicide. Patients presenting with an attempted suicide should be advised for a psychiatric consultation all told cases. During this context, there's an amazing has to allocate the mandatory resources for strengthening the first mental state care services altogether districts of the country.

There is a necessity to further increase the stress on the general public health approach to suicide prevention e.g. increased awareness generation, restrictions on access to commonly used lethal methods of suicides (insecticides, prescription medications) and control over facilitating factors like alcohol. there's a desire to develop a good framework integrating the psychological state with financial aid, education and other related sectors.

To conclude, the recent steps to attain decriminalization of suicide in India are commendable but were long overdue. Decriminalization will reduce the trauma and potential prosecution within the aftermath of a suicidal attempt. However, there's a desire to enhance the psychological state coverage and supply a framework to deliver essential mental state services to all or any those that attempted suicide.

References:
  • Mental Healthcare Act 2017: Need to Wait and Watch International journal of applied & basic medical research, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932926/ (last visited Oct 10, 2020)
  • The Indian Penal Code: Legislative Department: Ministry of Law and Justice: GoI Legislative Department | Ministry of Law and Justice | GoI, http://legislative.gov.in/actsofparliamentfromtheyear/indian-penal-code (last visited Oct 10, 2020)
  • https://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Mental%20Health/Mental%20Healthcare%20Act,%202017.pdf
  • The Tangled Knot of Suicide Rates Among People Living With HIV, https://www.thebodypro.com/article/top-americans-hiv-suicide (last visited Oct 10, 2020)

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