Time To Decriminalize Suicide Attempts in Malaysia: What, How and Why?


Did you know that Malaysia is one of the very few countries in the world that continues to maintain archaic laws that made suicide attempts a criminal act? Basically, in Malaysia, if you attempted suicide (and fail) you will be penalized under Section 309 of the Penal Code. Though many law reform committees, mental health organizations and mental health experts have called for this law to be repealed and instead address the key causes of suicide, which root is mental health difficulties, to date however no changes have been made!

So, for how long must we continue to beseech for the total repeal of or amendments to Section 309 of the Penal Code? And why is attempting suicide still a crime in Malaysia while many other countries have repelled it? And what exactly is Section 309 of the Penal Code, and how did it come to be? Why does this law need to be replaced? We bet all these questions are running in your head right now. Below, we’ve got all the answers to these burning questions. With a better understanding of mental health, suicide shall not be a crime!

Firstly, What is Section 309 Of The Penal Code?

-Whoever attempts to commit suicide, and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both. – Section 309 Penal Code.

Section 309 of the Penal Code originates from the Indian Penal Code derived from the British Common Law. The British brought it to then Malaya in 1936 and this law still continues today. This is why suicide is a crime in Malaysia. During that period, mental illnesses and health were not comprehended nor had importance in society but time has changed now!

So, Why Did The British Consider Suicide a Crime?

Well, the reason lies in religion, specifically Christianity.  Centuries ago, the English puritanical church believed that whoever intentionally took their own life given are utterly ignorant to God by jeopardizing their chance at salvation, so the Church perceived suicide as a sin. However, self-murder, the term back then for suicide, only became a crime under common law in England in the mid 13th century. In fact, there were serious consequences if the person was found dead by suicide. Not only will the church deny the deceased a Christian burial, but their family will also be stripped of their belongings, which will be handed to the Crown.

Has This Attitude Towards Suicide Changed?

YES, big time! Today, there is more awareness about suicide and mental health in general. More people are aware that most causes of suicide are mental distress and life difficulties. In fact, most of the countries like Singapore, Sri Lanka and even the UK who once followed Section 309 have repelled. Such changes have yet to take place in Malaysia.

Currently, What Is Malaysia’s Stand On Suicide?

The Malaysian government’s response to suicide attempts are mixed. Though, on one hand, suicide attempts are seen as mental health issues that require treatment, the legal approach towards suicide attempts does not seem to consider mental health aspects. For individuals charged under Section 309, they are not given any medical or psychological attention after or during their sentencing. Currently, suicide attempts are punishable by up to a year in jail, a fine or both!

Why Should Suicide Attempts Be Decriminalize?

Mainly because having a law that criminalizes suicide discourages people from seeking help even when help is available. They may fear that coming out and seeking help can warrant legal consequences. Plus, more than 90% of suicide victims in Malaysia suffer from major psychiatric illnesses such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder or a psychotic ailment and they should, therefore, be considered suicide victims who are patients rather than criminal offenders. They need help, not punishment!

Can Decriminalizing Suicide Reduce Suicide Rates?

Yes! Decriminalizing suicide would remove the stigma on mental issues and will give more people the confidence to come forward and seek help. However, mental health issues are not prominently highlighted in the Malaysian Parliament. We need more decision-making processes concerning mental health issues. Empathy towards those afflicted with serious mental illness can create a more compassionate, inclusive and resilient society.

Finally, How Can We Help Those With Suicidal Thoughts?

Remember, just talking and expecting law amendments are not enough: we as a society need to be more aware and compassionate towards those suffering from mental health issues. Remember, suicide is neither a taboo subject nor a crime. It is the result of various mental health issues, and suicide attempts are appeals for assistance. Individuals suffering from thoughts of suicide and attempt suicide are those that experience genuine issues of mental health that deserves humane respect and proper treatment.


Suicide is preventable. If you or anyone you know needs help or is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call Befrienders at 03-7956 8144 or 03-7956 8145.


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