Failed Suicide attempt…a second chance or a legal burden?
When one falls down or catches a disease it is an immediate reaction of that person to consult a doctor or a physician to recover and gain fitness once again. It is common natural mechanism that drives us to find a respite for the pain caused by such circumstances no matter what the cost and at the quickest. Many even tend to take care of those wounds themselves not requiring to visit a medical professional at all.
Even if a child is injured parents take the quickest action of subsiding the pain and rush their child to the hospital. What I have told you till now comes as no surprise to anyone as it is common sense, logical and most importantly common practice among people in the Indian society.
But sometimes a person can endure a loss or failure in life, which can put their spirits down. Making their confidence, humility, self-reliance, skill and most importantly mental strength to take a complete hit. This is the intangible and hart hitting ‘dis-ease’ of mental illness.
It is human mentality to have expectations and when these expectations aren’t adequately met, the mind tends to let itself down and with it the will to do anything. If a person is not able to handle it, he may look at it as the end of his/her world and take drastic measures.
It is an unfortunate reality, there are some people who find it really hard to get over a loss that has deeply affected them mentally. They begin to develop ideas and ways to end it but many resorts to the easiest and yet the worst option. i.e. committing suicide.
A person can commit suicide by many ways, such as hanging from a rope or falling of the roof of a building. There is an 80% chance that one will die of these acts. But what happens to those who fall under the other 20%?
Legality of a failed attempt
In India, there is a legal provision with relation to suicide and that is section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This statute states that Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may tend to one year [ or with fine, or with both.]
Here, it is evident that if one fails in their attempt in committing suicide, he/she will be sentenced to imprisonment. It does seem like a heinous law through the eyes of a layman. As it is putting an already distressed person under even more stress and burden. Making that person feel even more motivated in pursuing the act once again, when given the chance.
The argument as to which this law is backed is that article 21 of the constitution held that every individual has the right to live, but it is not mentioned that the same person has the right to die when they feel like. A very sound argument also is that the ‘’ right to life’’ is something given to one naturally and that it must be taken away by nature itself or due to consequence. Suicide is voluntary death and so it cannot be deemed as something naturally endowed on oneself.
But why must suicide by accepted as a crime?
Is it not that a person treads to the path of suicide when they believe that there is no more left to do and have lost all confidence? There is a valuable case on these lines that will further help reason with the argument against section 309. The case being Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab where it was rightfully argued that if a person possesses the right to live and thrive then logically that person should have the right to commit suicide and end his life. It will tarnish the little hope that the individual will have when he will be imprisoned for doing something to himself and not harming anyone else in any manner whatsoever.
Instead of having people around him who care and to whom he can converse and let his problems out, he will be forcefully confined between four walls in solitude making him realize even more as to why he must not live at all.
It does seem that section 309 of the IPC is one dimensional on the fact that it is heavily based on article 21 and the surrounding aspect that no one has the right to take away the gift of life, not even if it is theirs. This section is clearly based on the legality of attempt to suicide but does not focus on the humane and mental aspect of it.
On understanding these aspects an act did come into force that would to some extent render the aforementioned law obsolete. That is the Mental healthcare act, 2017, in which chapter XVI, section 115 mentions about the presumption of severe stress in case of attempt to suicide as mentioned below:
Not withstanding anything contained in Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code(45 of 1860) any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said code.
The appropriate Government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment, and rehabilitation to a person, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.
It is obvious now that anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar confusion, dietary issues, and depression are only a couple of the terms on the range of diseases that are minimal recognized or even known by the general public on the loose. Henceforth an individual confronting such unsettling influences is derided and detached in the public as opposed to giving them comfort. In this way, this is one of the fundamental reasons why numerous individuals decide to look for help from the suicide helpline. Here they can remain unknown and talk openly without the sentiment of being judged. However the efficiency of these helpline is poor.
The helpline was set up by the government to help people in need, talk to experts and doctors regarding their mental health issues and was introduced rather pompously. But, in a few months it had become very inefficient and is now having very less experts and is seen as a colossal failure.
Now, it is would be farcical to assume that with the act and the helpline the aspect of suicide will be reduced. But the stark reality is that it has helped but not to its maximum. When one actually does want to speak through the helpline it is often not connected or the connection would be faulty and in some cases the act is not even taken as a law yet.
What is required is that logically the idea of the helpline is brilliant and it needs to be upgraded. In terms of the law, the fact that there is not an independent statute stating that if one does not die from their attempt to suicide they will not be jailed is rather unfortunate and unacceptable.
There needs to be an independent law regarding this matter or there has to be an amendment made to section 309 of the IPC with this regard making it seem more based on logic and giving importance to the state of the person’s mental stability.
Maintaining and diagnosing mental health is as real and important as taking care of physical injuries. If one fortunately does survive the fatal attempt of committing suicide then we must give an environment that makes that person believe that it is a second chance at life rather than a legal burden that gets his spirits down.
Laws are made not only to protect one’s life but also to make them feel healthy and part of a thriving community, knowing how to tackle problems. So, in conclusion we must make laws that stick to this principle and help in reviving the motivation of the ones facing mental health problems after attempting to commit suicide.
Author: Tarun S,
IFIM law School