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Should Malaysia decriminalise suicide attempts?

Laws are not made to last forever, therefore reforms are necessary. As the name suggests, law reform is the process of reviewing and updating existing laws. This is done with the goal of making justice efficient. 

Section 309 of the Penal Code - What is is about?

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 Act clearly states that should you attempt to take your own life due to whatever reason, you will be sentenced to a maximum of one year in prison, or fined, or both. While this seems harsh, that is the law as it stands. 

The Malaysian Penal Code was enacted in 1936 which is an offshoot of the Indian Penal Code 1860. The source – you guessed it – the English Common Law. 

Fun fact: the Malaysian law has many similarities to the law in India thanks to British colonisation.

Have there been reforms in other Commonwealth countries in relation to s309?

Singapore, a fellow Commonwealth country, had repealed s309 of the Penal code with effect from 1st January 2020. This was done after a Penal Code Review Committee (PCRC) proposed to decriminalise suicide attempts and to focus on treatment instead. – a step in the right direction for our neighbour. 

Image credit: Malay Mail

What is the Ministry of Health’s take on suicide attempts?

There has been much confusion on this. The Psychiatric and Mental Health Services Operational Policy states that if a person is admitted into hospital for an attempted suicide, they will be provided the care needed and this includes mental health help. However, from a legal point of view, mental health is not taken into consideration for persons charged under s309.

Has there been Law Reform Committees set in Malaysia to review Section 309?

Yes. In 2012, there was an attempt to review Section 309 of the Penal Code by the Malaysia Law Reform Committee. After nine years, we are still in the process of reviewing it. The question now is, when will we finally make the move forward? 

Criminalising suicide only prevents a victim from seeking help. A suicide attempt is a tragedy. To treat it as a crime is a crime in itself. This antediluvian law should not have passed the test of time. We believe that everyone deserves a second chance to live. A person attempts suicide to end their misery. We should strive to help them get through their suffering and not put them in further distress. 

If you are experiencing emotional pain, you can seek help from Befrienders at 03-76272929 for free.


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