From ‘More arrested for attempting suicide’, 18 July 2015, article by Tee Zhuo, ST
More people were arrested for attempting suicide last year, according to latest police figures as of June 8. Last year, 901 people were arrested for trying to kill themselves, compared with 862 in 2013.
The 4.5 per cent increase in arrests, however, may not necessarily be a cause for alarm. Experts said the rise could be due to better intervention by third parties, such as family, friends and the police. 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 number of suicide deaths in 2013 was 422, down from 467 the year before. Statistics for last year have yet to be released.
…While suicide is illegal, those arrested are often referred to professionals. Some are let off with a stern warning, said experts. Statistics from the State Courts show only five cases filed, with at least one charge under Section 309 of the Penal Code, last year. This figure is also the lowest in a steady decline from 16 such cases in 2010.
Lawyer Peter Ong of Templars Law believes the suicide law should be abolished as it does not serve as a deterrent. “Knowing they may be arrested if their attempt fails may push them to complete it,” said Mr Ong.
Like section 377A, the suicide law is an archaic one descended from British colonial rule. According to psychiatrist Chong Siow Ann in an ST article last year, this has roots in Christian theology, whereby St Augustine decreed that killing yourself was a ‘mortal sin’ equivalent to killing God since He made Man in His image. In a 2007 editorial, Dr Chong cites the astonishing statistic that more Singaporeans die committing suicide than from road traffic accidents every year. The rest fail miserably, and either carry on with their unhappy lives with the crutch of antidepressants, counselling, religion, or get arrested if they’re unlucky, a rare few getting charged and put on probation only after 10 unsuccessful attempts.
Which begs the question of what exactly is an ‘attempted suicide’, and how the police differentiates this from one that is merely attention-seeking behaviour with no real intention to die. A man jumping in front of an MRT train is a clear indication, though he failed so horribly in the attempt that he only complained of ‘back pain’ after falling onto the tracks. Earlier this year, another man was arrested for sitting on a ledge and ‘dangling his legs’. It wasn’t reported if he was threatening to jump or was just there for the view.
Quarrelling couples threaten each other all the time. Antics such as raising one leg over the bedroom window, or holding the kitchen knife against one’s abdomen in the middle of a shouting match may seem more dangerous than someone perching on a ledge all by himself, but these people don’t get sent to the police station. Neither do we arrest those who pop 20 tablets of Panadol thinking it would send them into a blissful eternal sleep when all it does is send them to the hospital, if anything happens at all. One particular patient survived after swallowing 120 tablets.
A published paper explained that 3 conditions needed to be fulfilled before the state presses charges: 1) Repeated attempts 2)Wasted resources 3) When other offences are committed in the process, like injuring another person. In 2006, a man was charged based on the last criteria after falling on and breaking a girl’s leg in his misguided attempt. Both survived, partly because he jumped from the THIRD STOREY of his block.
The suicide law itself may very well be a double-edged sword, on one hand deterring those with half-hearted intent from tempting fate and allowing time for intervention, while pushing others determined enough to complete it. Since the law is not applied most of the time, it’s probably ineffective in weeding out people who just want to mutilate themselves for sympathy and may not even be diagnosed with depression in the first place, like teens cutting their wrists and uploading their battle scars on Facebook, probably driven by the same reasons behind children their age actually taking their own lives.
Our government may even be AFRAID of repealing it in case it leads to an actual INCREASE in suicide attempts and deaths. So until there are figures that show beyond a shadow of a doubt that decriminalisation works, I doubt they’ll pull the plug on this piece of legislation.