Lately, Singapore has looked at reviewing some key articles in the Penal Code. One of the articles being looked at is the decriminalisation of suicide attempts.
I applauded it when it first came out. I mean, that’s common sense right? When you read the article I linked above, it’s stated clearly – that treatment, not prosecution, is the appropriate response to attempted suicide.
And then there’s… this.
The author further notes in an FB post –
So I sent in my coauthored letter regarding the repeal of suicide law S309 last night. Together with 435 signatories, raised over 1.5 days, after we made the letter public and invited friends to read and join us in our appeal.
Here are some people I would like to thank.
Firstly, a big thank you to Chan Vee, my coauthor. You fulfilled the scientific role, went through great lengths to study the proposed amendment, and made the sound argument that strengthening the social scene for suicide is a different matter altogether from the repeal of a law; while repeal, in and of itself would bring implications (some forseeable, but most not). You researched and found evidence of an increase in suicide following decriminalisation. You are also the encourager behind the scene and the reason why our letter went public.
Next, Isaiah Chng, another passionate young gentlemen, was linking up. I call him young not because he is really that much younger than me, but because, he had devoted his life to empowering elderly folks twice his age (you can read more about his amazing story here: http://saltandlight.sg/…/i-want-to-grow-old-35-year-old-is…/). Isaiah knows from his ground work with the elderlies, that without S309 or some equivalent, suicide becomes a viable option in their minds.
Some have argued that abetment of suicide will still be a crime. However, this mitigating factor is moot for vulnerable groups like the elderlies. This is because with decriminisation of suicide, mandatory reporting of suicide will be unnecessary – as recommended by the Penal Code Review Committee.
Without mandatory reporting, how many would really bother to report if an elderly attempts suicide, perceiving that perhaps it is time for this “old man” to go rather than seek mental health intervention? How could we then know then if there had been abetment behind the scene, if there is no mandatory reporting?
Eventually, with elderly suicides, and suicides of others vulnerable, the compassionate response, some would argue, would be to allow euthanasia. But euthanasia will further hike the rates of elderlies and vulnerables ending their lives. It’s a vicious cycle and not one which we could bear for Singapore to reach.
Thirdly, Lay Khim, a veteran in the social work scene, both overseas and locally, was one of the first to reach out to inform me the strength of current suicide intervention scene.
All patients get immediate medical intervention from medical social workers or psychiatrists, because of mandatory reporting. From her experience, people who attempt suicide didn’t think about the law, nor were they aware.
Police intervention is also contained. She made the point that perhaps, the police may interview the survivors at odd hours. The patients could be inconvenienced, but they were never charged.
As I note in my write up published by Straits Times today, prosecution is reserved for those who repeatedly attempt suicide, for the sole purpose of mandating them to get helped.
Last but not least, I like to thank the 435 signatories! You are the first responders, to a seeming non-issue at a time where many would have chosen not to jump in, as they have yet thought this through – and this is perfectly understandable.
Yet it also takes a significant number who sensed something could be amiss, to jump in first, raise dialogue, slow down this irreversible process. Even if people aren’t convinced, they could support the fact that this process should be stalled for more public awareness, education, and dialogue with stakeholders.
Taken from Leo Hee Kian’s facebook post – https://www.facebook.com/leo.h.khian/posts/1548570575242561
I am convinced that S309 currently plays a helpful role for society. If you are interested to know more, you could read my forum letter, where I also address common fallacies e.g. like how that people who commit suicide are made criminals by a law. I hope these efforts would be enough for the Government to put a pause for a society rethink.
Thank you all for supporting this effort by sharing the message as well!
So. I must write in response even though I’m rushing to meet someone. Why? Because it’s that important to end mental health issue stigma. But no pictures. I no time.
When someone talks about prosecution, they forget that prosecution doesn’t necessarily mean the courts alone. So let me lay down some basic provisios here, before I go into that.
- Decriminalisation of attempted suicide does not mean the removal or disempowerment of the Mental Health Act. The Act, to sum things up, basically puts authority in the hands of IMH doctors, to commit someone to the hospital for given amounts of time for enforced treatment whenever someone is at risk to themselves or to others. Who enforces this? The police.
- Someone who attempts suicide is generally someone who has lost hope.
OK with that aside, what does the current law actually result in?
- Handcuffs. This may need to be kept – some provision may have to be added somewhere if it’s not already covered. Why? For safety. The officers’ and the patient, until transport to the hospital has been completed, removed at a doctor’s behest.
The rest of this list is what is not seen by the public.
- Stigma from officers. When officers are empowered by the law to follow up on a charge, they treat the person as a potential criminal or an actual criminal. Never mind the courts! This isn’t about mental health education – this is purely about the fact that a chargeable offence makes the officer handling the case aware that this person is more or less… a criminal!
And by the way. Someone who has attempted suicide really doesn’t need to be questioned about their actions at 3 in the morning, after being trussed up and manhandled down a block of flats, before being transported to IMH. Trust me. They know why they were up there and they wanted to do. Inconvenienced? Really? You think that’s all the attemptee was thinking about?
- Follow up proceedings. Instead of a patient having to report to the doctor or treatment team, the patient now has to report to the police as well, and to learn whether or not the issue will become a court case. As Mr. Leo puts it, maybe only when it’s repeated attempts.
How does that help the patient??
- Societal stigma in the mind of the patient, especially in mental health cases such as depression. Already someone who wants to commit suicide due to depression, for example, knows that they are terrible people, useless. When arrested and charged, they are now confronted with the fact that they are further loading a system they are a burden on, by troubling the police, with society saying, “You see lah you, waste of resources.”
Decriminalisation takes away points 2 to 4. How is that not helpful? How does that further encourage attempted suicide? Abetment is not discussed here because it remains. That’s important and real. Mandatory reporting of attempted suicide? Put it under the Mental Health Act. Maybe. I don’t see how that would help the actual patient when counselling and other treatment is needed, without further having the patient spiral downwards.
But all the rest of it? No one sees it. No one knows it.
When someone has lost hope and is staring death in the face, what should you give? What should be offered?
Hope. Not trouble and punishment.
Decriminalise attempted suicide. For the sake of those who’re desperate enough to think that death is preferable to this life. Instead of further making life even less preferable, hold out hope.
For the sake of my departed friend as well, who had to go through all the above before his untimely end.
Oh, and why do I write this? Because if you think attempted suicide needs to be punished, or people contemplating suicide are afraid that the law will hammer them, then you simply don’t understand those who’re staring death in the face and wishing to be consumed by it. Ever felt like that?
I do, on a daily basis.
And trust me.
No law will discourage me if I want to try it.
Love is what keeps me alive. The love of those around me. I don’t want to disappoint them or hurt them. Not the fear of the law or the fear of the police. The love of God and my family and friends.