MARUAH founder Braema Mathi has questioned why Parliament remains divided on decriminalising suicide attempts despite the resources Singapore has to help individuals attain long-term recovery.
Yesterday, during the Criminal Law Reform Bill debate in Parliament, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza called for the criminalisation of attempted suicide (Section 309) to stay.
Touting criminalisation as “a more compassionate approach” to deal with the complex issue, Mr de Souza said that keeping the law would symbolise that “taking one’s life is not the answer to life’s problem.”
Asserting that decriminalising attempted suicide could “send the signal that taking one’s life is acceptable to broader society,” Mr de Souza said that keeping the law would save lives and prevent euthanasia from embedding itself in Singapore.
Mr de Souza’s argument for keeping the law sounded similar to the government’s argument for keeping Section 377A which criminalises gay sex. He said: “Do I believe we should help members of our society who are contemplating suicide? Absolutely. Do I think we should enforce Section 309 against people who attempt suicide? In most cases, no. But, keeping the provision is still of immense value.”
Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Amrin Amin, noted that decriminalising attempted suicide could reduce the deterrent effect but urged his fellow MPs to “bear in mind that persons who attempt suicide typically are so distressed that the deterrent effect of criminalisation is very low.”
Reminding parliament that presently “hardly anyone is prosecuted and punished for this offence in the first place,” Amrin stated that the government is committed to preventing suicides and still criminalises the abetment of attempted suicide.
In his closing remarks, Amrin also recounted how he was struck by Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo’s experience of having to serve a warning to a semi-paralysed lady who had attempted suicide during his days as a police officer. Amrin said: “He said it felt unnecessary and discomforting. With today’s amendments, such warnings will no longer be required.”
Amrin also indicated that he does not expect decriminalisation to impact members of the public reporting attempted suicides since they call emergency lines for help instead of calling to report a crime.
In response to another suggestion about making counselling mandatory for those who have attempted suicide, Amrin showed that his ministry is trying to move away from enforcement. He said: “Again, we are trying to move away in this area from criminalisation to help, so we must tread carefully in this aspect.”
Braema has since said on Facebook that she finds the opposition to decriminalising attempted suicide “embarrassing.” She wrote on social media today: “I cannot comprehend how a Parliament can be divided on decriminalisation on attempted suicides… just cannot fathom it. There’s only one route – decriminalisation – and address root causes.”
Asserting that she is “embarrassed as I read some of the arguments put forth by those who wish to retain this law and have preventive mechanisms,” Braema pointed out that “a person who tries to kill himself/herself and fails is calling for attention to what is going on in their lives and one who did a botched job, will try again, unless circumstances and reviewing perspectives happens real fast.”
She added: “Most importantly, it is great to save people from self-harm and we all feel good about it – BUT do we have ENOUGH well-trained resources for LONG term recovery, who can work with individuals who have given up? This is the crux/core of the discussion. Too narrow the views held by those asking for criminalisation to stay.”
Read her views in full HERE.
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