Attempt to Commit Suicide: Legal Implications


Life is beautiful but not always easy, it has problems and the challenge lies in facing them with courage, letting the beauty of life act like a balm, which makes the pain bearable. Life is a stage with one entrance but many exits. One among them is suicide. Attempt to suicide can be defined as a nonfatal self-directed potentially injurious behavior with intent to die. Suicide has been an act which has been condemned through the ages. In 1968, the WHO defined a suicidal act as “the injury with varying degree of lethal intent”. Suicide accounted for 1.4% of all death worldwide.

Suicide; Interpretations Lies in the Mind of the Interpreter

Some are of the opinion that by punishing those who have attempted to commit suicide is cruel and irrational because it provides double punishment for a frustrated individual whose grievances had caused him to attempt to suicide and end his life. It is not justified to inflict additional legal punishment on a person who has already suffered agony and ignominy in his failure to commit suicide. By not punishing an attempt to suicide, it upholds the dignity of human life because human life is as precious to the state as it is to its holder and the state cannot turn a blind eye to a person in attempting to kill him. On an average, more than the 1,00,0000 persons commit suicides every year in the country during the decadal period from 2004 -2014 and there are many more who have attempted to commit suicide. Suicide accounted for 1.4% of all death worldwide. Statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that 79,773 men and 40,715 women had taken this extreme step. As per rounded off figures provided by the NCRB, on an average, 15 suicides an hour or 371 suicides a day had taken place. India is the country having the highest suicidal rate in the world.  Now, whether an attempt to suicide should be made punishable or not is a cause of concern not only for jurists but also for common man.

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The very first question arising is, what is suicide. Suicide means deliberate termination of one’s own physical existence or an act of voluntarily or unintentionally taking one’s own life. Attempt to suicide is the act of trying to commit the suicide; it can lead to either successful or unsuccessful outcomes. Now the question arises that what led to the suicide or attempt to suicide. What are the factors behind the screen which lead to these conditions? 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.

Legal provisions

Sometimes it is mixed with mercy killing and euthanasia. It 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. Euthanasia, on the other hand, involves the intervention of other humanitarian agencies to end life. Euthanasia is nothing but homicide, and unless specifically accepted it is an offense. A priori, an attempt at mercy-killing is not an attempt to suicide. 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 laws to combat suicide. In India, not only abetment of suicide is an offence (vide section 306, IPC), but also an attempt to commit suicide is an offence (vide section 309, IPC). Section 309, says 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 extend to one year or with fine, or with both.”Thus, in India, attempt to commit suicide has constituted an offence punishable under section 309, IPC.

Suicide is one of the important factors contributing to the premature or unnatural end of precious human lives. The World Health Organization has expressed, that punishing a behavior with imprisonment consequent to either a mental disorder or a social difficulty gives a wrong message to the population. 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.

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Case Studies

One of the burning topics at present related to suicide is Santhara. Santhara is a Jain custom of embracing voluntary death, it involves practitioners taking an oath to stop eating until they die of starvation. According to Jains, this is a way to purge oneself of bad ‘karma’ and attain ‘moksha’. Practitioners contend that Santhara is not an exercise in trying to achieve an unnatural death, but is rather a practice intrinsic to a person’s ethical choice to live with dignity until death. It is a ritual act of purification, done in consultation with a guru, and follows the most detailed of procedures. According to religious texts, it is permitted and is an integral part of Jainism. The Rajasthan high court, in a judgment on August 10, 2015, declared the Jain practice of Santhara, which involves a voluntary fast-unto-death, an offense punishable under the Indian penal code (IPC). This decision in Nikhil Soni v. Union of India[1]is likely to have far-reaching consequences, not only amongst the Jain community in Rajasthan but also across the country

Individual may not be permitted to die with a view of avoiding his social obligations. He should perform all duties towards fellow citizens. At the same time, however, if he is unable to take normal care of his body or has lost all the senses and if his real desire is to quit the world, he cannot be compelled to continue with torture. In such cases, it will indeed be cruel not to permit him to die. Reduction of suffering, the right to live would, however, mean the right to live with human dignity up to the end of natural life. Thus, the right to live would include right to die with dignity at the end of life and it should not be equated with the right to die an unnatural death curtailing natural span of life. Hence, a dying man who is terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state can be permitted to terminate it by a premature extinction of his life. In fact, these are not cases of extinguishing life but only of accelerating process of natural death which has already commenced.

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So its attempt should be punishable because you have some duties towards your fellow citizens. If you cannot produce life then you don’t have the authority to take away your own life. Its premature termination cannot be approved by any society.

Also read Decriminalization of Attempt to Suicide: Humanity Wins over Atrocity

[1] MANU/RH/1345/2015

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