ASSISTING SUICIDE – A CRIME?

Suicide is not a crime. This is because the person who commits the suicide is exempt from criminal action. However, actions around the commitment of suicide has been criminalized. Attempted suicide is a crime[1]. Meaning if you tried but failed to commit suicide, instead of providing a helping hand, the state will imprison you.


The question arises, what happens when you aid in the committing of suicide?



ABETTING SUICIDE


Section 306 of the Penal Code outlines that:

“If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”


Abetment is defined as where a person instigates[2], commands[3], engages with one or more other person in any conspiracy for the doing the illegal activity[4] or intentionally aids, by any act or illegal omission, the doing of the illegal activity[5].


In short, when you put the two together, a person who instigates, commands, is part of a conspiracy or intentionally aids the committal of suicide in Malaysia would be guilty of abetting the suicide.


SUICIDE BY WAY OF INSTIGATION

The classical use of the act involves persons who may have, through their actions and words, caused another person to commit suicide. There are not many reported cases of Section 306 in Malaysia but Indian case law on the subject matter is quite developed. For illuminary purposes, we will review two cases.


  • Ude Singh & Others v State of Haryana Criminal Appeal No. 233 of 2010[6]

The case of Ude Singh involved the verbal taunts made by Ude Singh, Hem Kara Hemla, Manoj and Daulat Ram against their niece/cousin. The taunts happened over a one-month period in which the offenders would make taunts as to the deceased’s marital status and as to her family’s honor. After an especially egregious bout of teasing which led to a physical altercation between a number of the Defendants and the deceased, the deceased had returned home and complained to her mother and brother of the same. While they had tried to calm her down, she was distraught and stated that she had no right to live. The next morning, the deceased was found dead by way of hanging in her room.  


The Court found that the continued utterances, with the intention to demean and harm, even after the victim had rebuked them, had goaded her into committing suicide.


  • Chitra @ Bebi vs State of Uttar Pradesh Application No. 737 of 2020[7]

In the case of Chitra, the husband had committed suicide after repeated abuse, both verbal and physical, by his wife, sister in law and mother in law. The Court had been informed that through the investigations and witness statements, it was shown that the Defendants had caused such inexorable pressure where the deceased had no option but to put an end to his life.


The abuse had been done in public, within view of passersby on the street who testified. The abuse, included the threats of death if the victim did not part with land and money, where the wife would threaten the husband and snatch away his food if he did not comply, among other actions. The Deceased had left a suicide note and WhatsApp messages to his relatives which pointed to the abuse as the cause for his unhappiness and his inability to find a way out.


The court had found that the evidence collected showed that the action of suicide was not one caused by an “over sensitive man” who was triggered by one incident. The Court further found that in a relationship of great trust such as one between spouses, if a spouse were to consistently abuse that trust, it could be reasonably be expected for a person to be driven to take the extreme step.


The two cases are illustrative of how the courts would view actions that amount to instigation. The instigation can be for a relatively short period of time such as in Ude Singh and can be suffered by both men and women.


The important element is to show that the actions taken by the accused were one that created an atmosphere in which the victim felt like there was no way out. In both cases, the accused were persons who occupied positions of trust and/or care. It is not expected of a family member to create such a toxic environment and therefore their actions precipitated the circumstances which caused the victim to commit suicide.


It is to be noted that in Chitra, the Defense had raised that the suicide was an extreme measure and that the victim was “over sensitive”. What is interesting to note was that the view taken by the law and lawyers that a man ought not be so sensitive over the comments made by the women in his life. In reviewing the case law, it would seem that there is a higher burden on the prosecution to prove abetment of suicide where the victim is a male. In Chitra, the prosecution had to bring evidence of the suicide note across platforms, testimony from passersby, proof that the family of the deceased had requested the wife to cease her actions and proof that the son of the marriage was not his own to validate the cause of the suicide and avoid the prayer by the Defendants to quash proceedings.


Another point worth noting was that the High Court in Chitra, made sure to point out that the pressures of an employer to an employee or a teacher to a student is vastly different than for spouses who are victims of matrimonial cruelty.


It could be inferred that where an employer exerts such pressure, the employee has the opportunity to leave the employment to avoid the toxic environment. As such, it would be more difficult to prove abetment of suicide. However, this fails to account for the less financially stable members of society, whose employment is the only source of income and only way to avoid destitution. It is worth noting that abusive employers tend to prey on these vulnerable employees. This form of abuse can also contribute to suicide and should not be dismissed by the law.


This author also wishes to touch upon the abuse of power dynamics as a cause of suicide. In the case of a student and teacher, or pupil and pupil master, it is clear that one party wields a lot more power than the other. This power disparity allows for the creation of a toxic environment in which the abused can feel like there is no way out. Until the law addresses means for those in vulnerable positions to raise their concerns, the law should not dismiss such dynamics as a cause for a person committing suicide.


PROVIDING SUICIDE SERVICES

Abetment of suicide also includes the intentional aiding of a person committing suicide. This is why you will note that Search Engines would usually provide the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as the top search results when a person askes “how to commit suicide”. In fact, search engines like Ecosia simply states that there are no results.


This also leads to the fact that forms of assisted suicide like euthanasia is illegal in Malaysia. If a clinic or professional were to assist a person with suicide, it would be a crime. It is why in medical dramas like House or Grey’s Anatomy or Scrubs, the doctor does not do the act of euthanasia but rather leaves the syringe/ tool within the patients reach. This is known as passive euthanasia in which the professional did not administer the lethal act but could be deemed to be complicit in intentionally aiding suicide. Nevertheless, it is difficult to prove intention and the prosecution service rarely pursues this. As such, case law is scarce on the topic.


Please note that the topic on euthanasia and the medico-legal ethical implications is a rich topic which will be explored in a different article.



CONCLUSION

The abetment of suicide is an interesting criminal act. The instigation of suicide through verbal and physical abuse should be punished as the accused had created a toxic environment in which the victim felt that they had no alternative but to take that extreme step. However, it would be prudent for the law to set out the differences between instigated suicide and euthanasia so as to allow the development of euthanasia without sacrificing the deterrent against instigated suicide.


[1] Section 309 Penal Code. For further reading, do have a look at our article https://adhaselvi.com.my/2021/11/15/unsound-repeal-the-criminalization-of-attempted-suicide-section-309-penal-code/

[2] Section 107 (a) Penal Code

[3] Section 107 (aa) Penal Code

[4] Section 107 (b) Penal Code

[5] Section 107 (c) Penal Code

[6] Ude Singh & Ors v State of Haryana Supreme Court of India, Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction, Criminal Appeal 233 of 2010 https://indiankanoon.org/doc/89699186/

[7] Chitra @ Bebi v State of Uttar Pradesh and Another, High Court of Allahabad, Application U/S 482 No. 737 of 2020 < https://indiankanoon.org/doc/101482639/>