Where Is Attempting Suicide Illegal?

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Why suicide first became illegal

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives some background on how suicide came to be illegal in the first place. The earliest clear indications of the development of these views came in the 5th century CE, when St. Augustine wrote that suicide violated the biblical fifth commandment that “thou shalt not kill.” Thus, he declared, it was an unrepentable sin.

Western countries

The UK decriminalized attempting suicide in 1961, and Canada followed in 1972.

What India’s up to

Attempting suicide was illegal in India for over 150 years under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, with a punishment of up to 1 year in prison. This was introduced under British rule in 1860.

Other countries

A review in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry of suicide laws around the globe found that, in 2015, 25 out of 192 independent countries and states have laws against attempted suicide. An additional 20 countries follow Sharia law, which allows for the punishment of suicide attempts, although suicided isn’t mentioned explicitly.

  • Americas: Bahamas, Guyana
  • Asia: Bangladesh, Brunei, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Syria, U.A.E., Yemen
  • Europe: Cyprus, Georgia
  • Oceania: Papua New Guinea

What this means

There aren’t that many countries still stuck in the dark ages, but still, it’s far too many. I’d be curious to know if these laws remain on the books because of actual preference, or because it’s status quo and no one talks about mental illness and/or suicide enough to get any wheels in motion for change. Regardless of how much there is of the former, I’m guessing there’s a great deal of the latter.

Mental health blogger | Former MH nurse | Living with depression | Author of 4books, latest is A Brief History of Stigma| mentalhealthathome.org