Govt ready to review laws criminalising suicide but...

The Government is prepared to review laws that criminalise suicide, said Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee in Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to a question from Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who asked whether the Government's stance on the matter was set in stone.

Under Section 309 of the Penal Code, those who attempt suicide can be punished with jail for up to a year, or with a fine, or both.

"The ministry is prepared to review the position, but in so doing we must recognise that this is not a straightforward exercise," said Mr Lee. "We need to make sure we do not inadvertently send the message that we no longer believe that it is wrong to take one's own life."

At the same time, law enforcement agencies and emergency services that respond to crises where a person is attempting suicide need to have powers to intervene and, after that, refer the individual to services for psychological and medical help.

The response from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) came in the light of several high-profile cases of suicide that made headlines.

Earlier yesterday, Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin had asked why the Government supported criminalisation of suicide, and what kind of psychological support was provided for those who attempted such a crime.

Mr Lee said that while in practice prosecutions were rare, the matter was something Singapore needed to take a stand on.

"It was thought to be important that society should signal through the law that it opposes people taking their own lives," he said.

He pointed out that only two people were prosecuted for attempting suicide last year, out of 1,096 reported cases. Incarceration of such individuals was even rarer, said Mr Lee. From 2011 to 2015, only five people charged with attempted suicide were jailed.

When responding to cases of attempted suicide the police's priority is to "ensure the person's safety", said Mr Lee, adding that arrests are made only to prevent the individuals from doing harm to themselves or others.

In such situations, handcuffs are used only to ensure safety or to prevent the individual from running away, said Mr Lee.

He also said that all cases would be recommended some form of medical or psychological support. Individuals could be referred to the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) or the Institute of Mental Health, or their next of kin could be roped in to help.

Said Mr Lee: "Everyone has a part to play in paying attention to warning signs of suicidal tendencies of the people around us, especially family and friends. We should not hesitate to refer those who need support to the services that are available."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2016, with the headline Govt ready to review laws criminalising suicide but.... Subscribe