Psychiatrist advocates abrogation of law criminalizing suicide attempt

Psychiatrist advocates abrogation of law criminalizing suicide attempt

Friday, July 20, 2018 1:05 pm


A Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Peter Nubi, says the law which prescribes one-year imprisonment for people who attempt suicide is unjust and obsolete.

Nubi, who is also a rehabilitation expert at Grace Cottage Clinics, Lagos, made the assertion in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ibadan on Friday.

He said that attempted suicide was more of a medical case, and called for a review of the law which penalised persons found guilty of attempted suicide.

“Suicide attempt is a non-fatal self-directed potentially injurious behaviour with any intent to die as a result of the behaviour. A suicide attempt may or may not result in injury.

“Those who attempt to commit suicide are in need of medical help rather than charging them to court.

“It is imperative for us to know that the choice to take one’s life is usually a difficult one and should not be taken at face value.

“Usually, suicidal thoughts and attempts are results of emotional problems, precipitated by depression and feeling of hopelessness,” Nubi said.

“Considering the fact that these are symptoms of a medical condition, the criminalisation of suicide attempts is as good as saying for instance, if a person complains of malaria and exhibits symtoms of fever, you decide to jail the person.

“We understand that suicidal attempt is a symptom of mental illness, and mental illness is just like any other medical condition, so the criminalisation is tantamount to criminalising an illness.”

The psychiatrist, who said that criminalising attempted suicide would not solve the underlying cause, called for a review of Section 327 of the Criminal Code which stipulates that any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for one year.

“In as much as the law on attempted suicide seeks to serve as deterrence, this law is not only archaic and obnoxious, it is not just right.

“Treating attempted suicide as a crime only compounds its burden on the society and in spite of the existence of this law, there is a growing incidence of suicides among Nigerians.

“What a person who attempted suicide needs is not a jail term but rather it is a cry out for help and to draw attention to their distress.

“The criminalisation means that those who will make attempts on their lives will become more desperate in their suicide plan and make sure they succeed in their mission.

“Statistics show that 80 per cent of all suicide plan result in suicide whereas 60 per cent of all attempts have resulted in the actual suicide,” the psychiatrist said.

“Jailing such persons rather than providing the needed medical help will only compound the feeling of hopelessness and desperation.

“This criminilsation is sending the wrong message and prevents a person from seeking the needed help.

“It implies that such a person will devise means that are fatal and ensure he successfully takes his life the next time.

“Consequently, we will be having complete suicide on our hands and depriving our country of people who can contribute meaningfully to the society.

“Let such persons be examined by mental health experts, treated and let the person goes home, otherwise the state bears the liability for a person who dies in prison.”

Nubi, who appealed to government to abolish the law criminalising attempted suicide like some other countries had done, said that efforts should be geared toward the passage of the Mental Health Bill.

“This is a passionate plea that government at all levels should expunge suicide attempt from the penal code and the enactment of Mental Health Bill will protect all concerned against discrimination and obnoxious laws,” he said.

He also called on physicians to have high index of suspicion for signs and symptoms of suicidal tendencies among their patients.

“Suicide is a tragic public health crisis which is often done in response to overwhelming, unbearable emotional pain.

“Suicide is, especially tragic as it is a preventable death and the person leaves behind many loved ones.

“Some signs of suicidal tendency, include feeling of hopelessness, intense emotional pain, depression, psychosis and feeling of helplessness,” he said.

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