Health Ministry: Decriminalising suicide bids will enable more accurate figures since doctors under-report

Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said those who attempted to commit suicide should be considered as patients instead of criminals. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said those who attempted to commit suicide should be considered as patients instead of criminals. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 ― The government's plan to change the law and stop suicide attempts from being treated as a crime will lead to more accurate figures on how many such attempts occur in Malaysia, the Health Ministry has said.

Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said those who attempted to commit suicide should be considered as patients instead of criminals.

“We welcome the move to decriminalise attempted suicide because suicide patients should be treated as those suffering from depression, not burdened with criminal investigations.

“Decriminalising it helps us to have a more accurate suicide registry data as under-reporting of suicides by doctors is rampant,” he was quoted saying to local daily New Straits Times (NST).

With mental health issues being connected to suicide cases, Dr Lee said that Malaysia was short of psychiatrists as the World Health Organisation recommends a ratio of one psychiatrist to 10,000 people.

According to NST, Dr Lee said Malaysia currently has 400 psychiatrists with 220 of them attached to the Health Ministry, with 300 family medicine specialists in the ministry also providing mental health services.

He said the ministry has encouraged doctors to undergo training in psychiatry via masters programmes at local universities through the Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan scholarship programme, and has also encouraged doctors to take up overseas specialist programmes in psychiatry.

Dr Lee's comments were as a response to minister in charge of legal affairs Datuk Liew Vui Keong's Monday announcement that he hopes to table legal amendments in Parliament to abolish attempted suicide as a crime under the Penal Code by mid-2020.

Liew said he had in early 2019 announced the government's intention to stop considering suicide attempts as a crime, adding that the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) had carried out consultation with various stakeholders including psychiatric associations, religious bodies, Befrienders, the Youth and Sports Ministry, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

Liew said that the AGC was currently studying an alternative mechanism to handle the mental health problem of suicide attempts based on various models from several Commonwealth countries, with a proposal paper to be submitted to the Cabinet for approval once the AGC completes its studies.

Liew said he would then table the proposed amendment in Dewan Rakyat once the Cabinet gives its nod.

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