K Shanmugam: Criminal offence on suicide attempts to make clear that people should not take their own lives

Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam stressed that it is a criminal offence to attempt suicide because it was thought to be important that society should make it clear that people should not take their own lives.
This is his response to questions filed on 9 January by NCMP Leon Perera who asked the Minister for Home Affairs what is the evidence available to the Government that suggests that section 309 of the Penal Code deters attempted suicides and what efforts will the Government be undertaking to ensure that this law does not deter those who entertain suicidal thoughts from seeking help.

Section 309.  Whoever attempts to commit suicide, and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

The Minister said that based on the World Health Organisation’s statistics, Singapore’s suicide rate is lower than a number of other developed countries.
“In practice, prosecutions are rare, and Police officers are trained to respond to cases of attempted suicide with sensitivity and compassion. When responding to such cases, Police’s priority is to ensure the person’s safety,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam said that the Ministry of Health has also shared in an earlier reply how Singapore adopts a multi-pronged approach to prevent suicide. Government agencies and social sector organisations work together to try and prevent suicides through upstream prevention, encouraging people to seek help, providing support to at-risk groups and offering crisis support.
“This multi-pronged approach includes programmes to reduce the stigma in seeking help for suicidal thoughts,” he noted.
The Minister stated that voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) such as the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), have been actively promoting public awareness on suicide prevention. They have rendered advice and help to persons with suicidal thoughts who call their hotlines.
There is also Silver Ribbon (Singapore) which addresses the stigma associated with mental illness, reaches out to those who need help, and encourages them to seek early treatment.
“The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) also conducts public education programmes in schools and in the community, to increase understanding of mental health conditions,” he added.
However, he did not respond to the question by Mr Perera on what evidence is available to the Government to suggest that section 309 of the Penal Code deters attempted suicides.

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