Singapore Parliament House / photo: e-architect.co.uk

Desmond Lee: Government prepared to review laws criminalising suicide

The law of decriminalising suicide attempts could come under review, said Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee on Monday, 7 November.

Mr Lee said this in response to the question of Mr Louis Ng. MP for Nee Soon GRC in Parliament, who asked whether the Government’s stance on the suicide matter was set in stone.

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

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.

Mr Lee said it is ‘not a straight-forward’ issue, “We need to make sure that we do not inadvertently send the signal that it is no longer wrong to take one’s own life.”

But law enforcement agencies and emergency services who respond to an incident where someone is attempting to commit suicide, need to have powers to intervene, he explained.

“However the Government is prepared to review laws criminalising suicide,” he added.

Mr Lee stated that prosecutions are rare, “In 2015, only two persons were prosecuted out of 1,096 reported cases of attempted suicides,” he pointed out.

And imprisonments are even rarer – only five persons charged for attempted suicides were imprisoned between 2011 and 2015, he said.

MP Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) asked if Home Affairs officers are given specialised training to handle cases of attempted suicides.

Mr Lee responded by saying that police officers are trained to respond to attempted suicides with sensitivity and compassion.

When responding to cases of attempted suicide the police’s priority is to ensure the person’s safety, and arrests are only made to prevent the individual from doing harm to themselves or others.

“Handcuffs are used only when there is a need to prevent people who attempt suicide from running away or further harming themselves, or causing harm to officers or members of the public,” he said.

In all cases of attempted suicides, an appropriate follow-up is always advised. Should there be signs of mental instability, the person may be warded for medical or psychological care and treatment, Mr Lee said.

Individuals should be referred to the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), or the Institute of Mental Health, or their family could be drawn in to help.

Mr Lee stated, “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.”

However, TOC understands that suicides are often thrown into Insitute of Mental Health in response to their attempt on life. In an earlier interview with one such individual, it was said that the suicide survivors are placed in a combined ward with patients with mental problems. Rather than improving the situation for the survivor, the individual is placed under further stress.

 

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