Suicide: A Stigma In The Society?

Suicide: A Stigma In The Society?

We often hear about people living in our neighborhood who commit suicide out of poverty, mental problems, monetary issues and depression. Sometimes it is the newspaper which carries such saddening news and things become even more perturbing when it is about our famous celebrities.

From the famous suicide of Socrates, Cleopatra Seneca, Brutus, Mark Antony, Roman-Emperor Nero, Ernest Hemmingway, to modern suicides of Marliyn Monroe, Jiya Khan and Robin Williams people do but lament over their favorite personalities’ sudden death and then pass a verdict about their death to be against the injunction of their belief and their souls for roaming around for salvation till the end of time.

The word suicide was first used in 1651 in the Oxford English Dictionary and contrary to the beliefs of Abrahamic religions in which it was considered a sin to take one’s own life, the pagan world had a moderate approach to suicide and under Roman law, suicide was never a general offence. Christendom excommunicated the souls who attempted suicide and those who committed suicide were burned outside the church while Louis XIV issued a criminal ordinance in 1670 to drag the departed soul in the streets of France and confiscate his or her property.

During Renaissance, scholars like Thomas Moore came forward to write against the taboo of the society and defended the right of a person to take his or her own life and reasoning was presented on the ground of nature to approve such act. Suicide was seen more of as an insanity than as a sin. By the 19th century, English law distinguished between suicide and homicide and by the 20th century, suicide had become legal in most of the west.

Military and Honor suicide:

People would take their lives after a defeat in a battle to avoid capture. The famous example would be the incident of Masada in 74 CE when Jews died in a mass suicide to avoid being captured and enslaved by Romans. The samurais in Japan would end their lives nearing defeat or for not upholding their oath (the 47 Ronins).

The practice of johar was carried out by Rajput women for ending their lives when they feared capture from the enemy, adapting to an altruistic suicide. The Hindu women would jump into the funeral pyre of their husbands to end their life through satti. Another example from Biblical accounts is of Samson who took his own life to save the Israelites and Judas of Iscariot, who after deceiving Jesus hanged himself.

During WWII the kamikaze pilots with their fuel tanks full would target US ships and would make deliberate suicidal crashes inflicting heavy damage on the American army.

The suicide bombers in modern times blow themselves up for some ‘noble’ cause as they regard it.

Nazi leaders would carry suicide pills with them to end their life before arrest. Similarly spies would do the same to avoid any secrets from spilling out. Irwin Rommel chose to kill himself when Hitler found out about his ambitions.

Islam prohibits suicide. The Quran says: “Do not kill your (own) self, surely He is merciful to you” (Surah Al Nisa Ayat 24).

Suicide in the modern world

Following is the detail of suicidal penalty (if any) in the countries of the world:

  • Australia: In the state of Victoria, suicide itself is not considered a crime. However if a suicide pact is made and one party survives, they could be charged with manslaughter. Additionally it is a crime to assist others in suicide and the law allows others to use whatever force deemed necessary to prevent another person from committing suicide.
  • Belgium: In 2002, the Euthanasia Act made euthanasia legal, but assisted-suicide was deemed illegal. In 2006, changes were made to euthanasia law making it legal under certain regulations. These conditions included: patient must be an adult and in “futile medical condition” with “physical or mental suffering” that cannot be remedied. Patients must also have a long-standing history with the physician that plans on being part of the process. Additionally there must be several requests that are reviewed by a commission and approved by multiple physicians before the act can take place.
  • Canada: In 1972, the act of suicide was removed as being a criminal action. In 1993, a law was created that prohibited any form of assisted-suicide. There has been some controversy in recent years surrounding the ban of physician-assisted-suicide. Many disabled individuals feel as though they should have a right to assisted-suicide under Canadian law. Additionally anyone who compels or entices a person to commit suicide is subject to criminal penalty regardless of whether the individual carries through with the act. In 2014, physician-assisted-suicide became legal only in the province of Quebec.
  • China: Any form of assisted-suicide, including with assistance from a physician is considered illegal in China. Many individuals have protested this law and demanded some sort of change as a result of the pain and suffering associated with terminal illnesses.
  • Colombia: In this country, physician-assisted-suicide is considered legal for terminally ill patients. This law was taken to court, but upheld with a 6 to 3 ruling. Although physician-assisted-suicide is legal here, there aren’t any specific rules or regulations for physicians and patients to follow.
  • Denmark: Assisted-suicide of all forms is considered illegal and is viewed as a manslaughter crime. This is punishable of up to 3 years in prison.
  • England: Until 1961, all laws against suicide were kept in place, followed by a punishment of death if the offender did not succeed. They were originally thought to be offensive to God and the Crown of the country. With the passing of the Suicide Act in 1961, suicide was no longer considered a crime. However, this Act states that it is considered an offence to assist in a suicide. It is thought that the assisted-suicide laws in this country may be revised.
  • Estonia: The act of suicide as well as assisted-suicide is legal.
  • Finland: There is nothing in Finnish criminal law regarding assisted-suicide. In the event that assisted-suicide is rightfully justified, no action is taken against the assistant. Finnish physicians are not known to partake in assisted-suicide or euthanasia.
  • France: All forms of assisted-suicide are considered illegal in France and anyone aiding in a suicide can be arrested. In 2013 it was stated that the country will be holding a debate on the issue, and many polls demonstrate overwhelming support in support of a law for assisted-suicide. France also has a ban on all suicide-related publications.
  • Germany: Suicide itself is considered legal in this country. Assisting with a suicide by providing materials is also considered legal here. However, killing someone to satisfy their demands is illegal. Encouraging another person to commit suicide is viewed as irrelevant in this country.  Only when a suicidal person is not acting out of “free will” (i.e. manipulated will) is assistance punishable as homicide. The person is not believed to have free will when: aged under 14, dealing with mental illness, or acting as a result of an emergency. It should also be noted that if someone assists in suicide, or the person who wants to die, is still alive (unconscious), they must make an effort to save the person or it could be viewed as a criminal offence.  Additionally people who are in positions of ‘warrantor’ such as: doctors, police officers, parents, etc. are responsible for making efforts to prevent suicides. If they do not make these efforts, they could be charged with ‘homicide by omission’.
  • Hungary: This country has among the highest rates of suicide in the world. Assisted-suicide or attempted suicide carries a punishment of imprisonment for up to 5 years. Euthanasia by physicians is also regarded as an illegal activity.
  • Iceland: Assisted-suicide is illegal in this country and there is no desire to change these laws.
  • India: Any attempted suicide in this country is punishable by law. If a person attempts to commit suicide here, they can be punished with imprisonment of up to 1 year as well as fines. Since the suicide rate in India is above average compared to other countries, many citizens are pushing for change in legislation.
  • Ireland: In this country, any attempted suicide is not considered a criminal offence. Under Irish legislation, any form of self-harm is not considered a suicide attempt. Suicide was revoked from its illegal status in this country in 1993. Assisted-suicide and euthanasia are illegal, but residents are fighting this legislation.
  • Japan: Committing suicide is considered illegal, but it is not punishable. Assisted-suicide is considered illegal and anyone found assisting in suicide can be legally punished. There have been instances in which Japan approved medical voluntary euthanasia, but these cases are few and far between, and must be approved by a high court.
  • Luxembourg: Suicide itself is considered legal and assisted-suicide was made legal in 2009. Despite that fact, people can be legally penalized for not assisting someone else in danger. Euthanasia, however, is considered illegal in his country.
  • Netherlands: In the Netherlands, it is acceptable to be present and provide moral support during someone’s suicide. Supplying suicide information regarding techniques is also not illegal. With that said, it is considered a crime to participate in the preparation of a person’s execution. This means that you are not allowed to supply any suicide supplies (e.g. substance or tools) or give instructions as to how they can be used. Physician-assisted-suicide is not punishable if the physician uses proper care and the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act from 2002. Physicians involved in assisted-suicide are required to report euthanasia to review committees.
  • New Zealand: This country has no laws against the act of suicide in the event that it is non-assisted (i.e. personal). Euthanasia is considered illegal here, despite that multiple attempts to pass legislation supporting it. Under the New Zealand Crimes Act of 1961, it is illegal to assist someone with suicide.
  • North Korea: This is a country in which suicide rates are considerably lower than average. It is thought that the reason suicide rates are low is due to the burden suicide would have on a person’s family. It is thought that if someone commits suicide, it is possible for the government to purge or ostracize the rest of that person’s family and relatives. In this country there is strict social pressure and an unforgiving nature surrounding suicide.
  • Norway: Attempting or committing suicide is not illegal in this country.
  • Romania: In this country, the act of suicide is legal. However if you assist someone in suicide by encouraging them or helping set it up, this is considered a criminal offence. In the event that you assist in a suicide, you could face up to 10 years in prison.
  • Russia: Anyone who is suicidal can be put into a psychiatric hospital in this country. In Russia, if you encourage someone to commit suicide by humiliating them, treating them cruelly, or by making threats, you could end up in prison for up to 5 years. Federal law in this country requires censoring information about suicide and methods on the internet. Even websites that contain suicide jokes are censored in Russia. The rate of teenage suicides in this country is 3 times greater than the world average.
  • Scotland: If people commit suicide themselves, it is not considered a criminal offence. In some cases, committing suicide may be considered a “breach of the peace” if it is not done privately. Under Scottish law, any individual who assists another in the act of suicide could be charged with murder, homicide, or nothing – depending on the case.
  • Singapore: Anyone who even attempts suicide can be sent to prison for up to a full year.
  • South Africa: Attempting or committing suicide is not considered a crime in this country. From 1886 to 1968 it was illegal, but this legislation no longer stands. Assisted-suicide is still illegal in this country, but there is some thought that it may eventually be legalized.
  • Switzerland: Assisted-suicide is considered legal in this country, but there are specific rules that must be followed. By law, if a person encourages (or requests) someone to commit suicide for ‘selfish reasons’ or assists them in the process, whether successful or attempted, the person who provoked the suicide can be imprisoned for up to 5 years. To avoid this sentence, a person must prove that the victim was of sound mind and that they were assisting with good intentions to help relieve the ‘suffering’. This is the only country that allows foreigners to take advantage of assisted-suicide laws.

Agathusia or benevolent sacrifice

Taking one’s life for the benefit of the society is known as agathusia for limiting social conflicts, i.e population control. In the 1967 novel ‘Logan’s Run’ and the film based on it in 1976, and in Dan Brown’s book “Inferno”, euthanasia is endorsed by the antagonists in the wake of meager resources and overpopulation in the world.

Euthanasia or assisted-suicide

Euthanasia is to help a person end his life against the suffering and pain he or she endures. Euthanasia is legal only in the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Albania and in the US states of California, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Montana and Washington. A movie in 2010, Guzarish was released under this subject.

Predicament in Pakistan and India

India and Pakistan both have penalized commitment of suicide. Section 325 of Pakistan Penal Code states:

“325. 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.”

After recommendations from the Federal Shariat Court in 1981, section 305 (abetment of suicide of child or insane person) and s.306 (abetment of suicide) were struck down from the Penal Code but they remain a part of the Indian Penal Code to this day. The punishment for attempting suicide in India is the same (it is under section 309).

Section 305 IPC defines the punishment of the offence to be death, imprisonment for life and imprisonment not exceeding 10 years with a fine too and S.306 states the penalty to be a term which may extend to ten years and also a liability of fine.

Most of the world does not see suicide as an offence but a psychological disease out of poverty or depression which may be cured through therapies. It is high time the Penal Code gets amended and the people be sent to a rehab centre rather than jail. The two countries (India and Pakistan) are welfare states and should work their way to solve the problems of the common man, rather than making it difficult for them to survive.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he might be associated.

Muhammad Ali Jafri

Author: Muhammad Ali Jafri

The writer is a final year student of law at S.M. Law College. His areas of interest include law, history and governance and public policy.

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