Criminalization of Attempt to Suicide
Suicide is the only instance in the INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860 where only attempt to commit is punished rather than the commission of actual offence. Section 309 of the code penalizes for Attempt to Suicide. It states “Whoever tries to commit suicide shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year”. This is based on the principle that lives of the people are not only valuable for them but also for the State and Society which nurtures and protects them.
Constitutional validity of this Section has been one amongst the most questioned one. The Law Commission of India in its 42nd Report (1971) observed that the penal provision as to attempt to commit suicide is harsh and unjustifiable and it should be repealed. A bill was later presented in the Parliament to amend this section but was subsequently lapsed.
The above provision is always highlighted in the context of Fundamental Right of Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21 of Indian Constitution and the legal issue of “Right to Die” under “Right to Life and Personal Liberty”is always raised. In the leading case of P. Rathinam v. UOI, AIR 1994 SC 1844, while striking down Section 309, IPC Apex Court observed that: “Article 21 has enough positive content in it so that it also includes the Right to Die which inevitably leads to the right to terminate one’s own life if one so desires i.e. the right to commit suicide. The term life does not mean mere animal existence but right to live with human dignity and embracing quality of life.”
However, in 1996 a five member Constitution Bench of Apex Court in Smt. Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, AIR 1996 SC 1257 overruled it’s verdict of P. Rathinam. While upholding the validity of Section 309 it observed that “Right to life is a natural right embodied in Article 21 of the Constitution but suicide is an unnatural termination of life and, therefore, incompatible and inconsistent with the concept of right to life.”
But again a dichotomy of law was created and is still sustaining after the enactment of Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 of which Section 115 reads “Notwithstanding anything contained in IPC section 309, anyone who attempts suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said code”. Apex Court is yet to harmonize the two contradictory sections of the Code and the Statutory.
It was lately on 9 March 2018, the Supreme Court in its historic judgement of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India &Ors. legalized “Passive Euthanasia” by means of withdrawal of life support system to patients in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) though no revision of the aforesaid section of IPC has been initiated.
Attempt to Suicide has been already decriminalized in many western countries and is also stigmatized and discouraged.
The dynamics of suicide cases in India are already showing alarming concerns which requires an immediate executive and judicial attention.
Books Referred –
Criminal Law by PSA Pillai
Indian Penal Code by KD Gaur