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Report No. 210

Humanization and Decriminalization of Attempt to Suicide

1. Introduction

1.1.1. While approximately one million people die by suicide worldwide1 more than one lakh persons (1,18,112) in the country lost their lives by committing suicide during the year 2006. This indicates an increase of 3.7 per cent over the previous year's figure (1,13,914). The number of suicides in the country during the decade (1996-2006) has recorded an increase of 33.9 per cent (from 88,241 in 1996 to 1,18,112 in 2006).2

1. International Association for Suicide Prevention

2. Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India - 2006, National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

1.1.2. The overall male: female ratio of suicide victims for the year 2006 was 64:38; however, the proportion of boys: girls suicide victims (up to 14 years of age) was 48:52, i.e., almost equal number of young girls have committed suicide as their male counterparts. Youths (15-29 years) and lower middle-aged people (30-44 years) were the prime groups taking recourse to the path of suicides.

Around 35.7 per cent were youths in the age group of 15-29 years and 34.5 per cent were middle-aged persons in the age group of 30-44 years of the total suicide victims. Senior citizens have accounted for 7.7 per cent of the total victims. Social and economic causes have led most of the males to commit suicides, whereas emotional and personal causes have mainly driven females to end their lives.1

1. Idid.

1.2. Suicide (felo de se) means deliberate termination of one's own physical existence or self-murder, where a man of age of discretion and compos mentis voluntarily kills himself. It is an act of voluntarily or intentionally taking one's own life. Suicide needs to be distinguished from euthanasia or mercy-killing. Suicide by its very nature is an act of self- killing or self-destruction, an act of terminating one's own life sans the aid or assistance of any other human agency. Euthanasia, on the other hand, involves the intervention of other human agency to end the life. Euthanasia is nothing but homicide, and unless specifically excepted it is an offence. A priori, an attempt at mercy-killing is not an attempt to suicide.

1.3.1. Throughout history, suicide has been both condemned and commended by various societies. Since the Middle Ages, society has used first the canonic and later the criminal law to combat suicide. Following the French Revolution of 1789 criminal penalties for attempting to commit suicide were abolished in European countries, England being the last to follow suit in 1961.1

1. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 11, Micropaedia, 15th ed. (1987), p. 359.

1.3.2. In England, the Suicide Act 1961 abrogated the law laying down that attempt to commit suicide is an offence. Although suicide is no longer an offence in itself, any person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term which may extend to 14 years.1

1. Halsbury's Laws of England, 4th ed. 2000 Reissue, Vol. 11(1), Para 106

1.4.1. In India, not only abetment of suicide is an offence (vide section 306, IPC), but also attempt to commit suicide is an offence (vide section 309, IPC). Section 309, IPC reads as under:

Attempt to commit suicide. "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 extend to one year or with fine, or with both."

1.4.2. Thus, in India, attempt to commit suicide is constituted an offence punishable under section 309, IPC. Although completed act was not a crime, surprisingly, attempt to commit the act was made an offence.

1.5. Suicide is one of the important factors contributing to premature or unnatural end of precious human lives. It is a global problem and the World Health Organization has in regard to attempted suicide expressed the view that punishing with imprisonment a behaviour consequent to either a mental disorder or a social difficulty gives completely a wrong message to the population, and that the WHO encourages efforts for the prevention of suicide.

1.6. The International Association for Suicide Prevention has also expressed the view that attempted suicide should be decriminalized and that suicidal individuals need to be helped and imprisonment only makes their problems worse. The said Association on September 10 every year sponsors 'World Suicide Prevention Day' as a part of its efforts to achieve effective suicide prevention.

1.7. In view of the above, the Law Commission suo motu decided to take up study of this important issue of suicide prevention.

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