This blog is inscribed by Siddhi Mehta.
“All fled–all done, so lift me on the pyre;
The feast is over, and the lamps expire.”
The above lines were a part of Robert E. Howard who was a well-renowned writer, a farewell letter to the planet before he committed suicide. It’s in these lines that one gets thought about the state of mind of an individual close to committing such an act of self-destruction and what he/she goes through. Further on during this article, Robert E. Howard’s death note will make us aware of what most of our society has been ignorant about for an extended time.
The word “Suicide” literally means, “To kill oneself” (Sui-of oneself and Caedre – To kill). In 1968, the World Health Organization defined the suicidal act as “the injury with varying degrees of lethal intent” and suicide is defined as “a suicidal act with the fatal outcome”. Nearly 800000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Attempted suicide is a failed attempt to take one’s life. Assisted suicide is defined as an individual helping another individual in bringing about their death by providing them with the means to carry it out or by provoking on how to do it.
This article will be focusing on the attempt to suicide which is punishable under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. (Herein referred to as IPC). Tons of conflicting views have brought forth on the desirability of retaining or deleting Section 309 of IPC.
Section 309 of IPC,1860
The section states – Attempt to commit suicide:
“Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offense shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both.”
From an elementary studying of this section, it can be inferred that the attempt must be intentional. The main element of suicide is intentional self-destruction of life. Thus, if a citizen is at some stage in a nation of intoxication, he is taking an overdose of poison through mistake he is not guilty under this section. The section relies on the basis that the lives of men aren’t best treasured to them but additionally to the country which safeguards them.
The life of Section 309 became considered an anachronism dishonorable of human civilization within the 21st century. Attempt to suicide can be regarded more as a signal of a diseased situation of mind deserving treatment and care in place of an offense to be visited with punishment. Criminalizing suicide is a form of condemnation instead of how of helping people deal with the underlying psychological state problems that lead them to aim to require their lives.
Article 21 of the Constitution
The Constitution of India is the supreme law of the land. It provides an extended index of fundamental rights under Part-III. Article 21 of our Constitution is one of the important fundamental rights among those rights.
Article 21 – Protection of Life and Personal Liberty:
“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.”
The right to life is a phrase that is described in this article. It defines that the belief that a citizen has a crucial right to live which suggests steering a meaningful and dignified life. A very captivating development in the Indian jurisprudence is that the extended proposition given to Article 21 by the Supreme Court in the post-Maneka era. Since then, Article 21 has proved to be multi-dimensional.
Thus, Liberty is guaranteed to every individual but no such right is explicitly given to end his life on his own will. On this issue the stance taken by the judiciary is indisputable. The main question that arises is whether the right to life includes the right to die.
In India, the case laws relating to attempt to commit suicide have intersected on the issue of ‘right to die’ and this does not only question the morality but also the constitutionality of section 309 of IPC.
- In a landmark judgment delivered by the Apex Court in P. Rathinam vs. Union of India, the court held that Section 309, IPC is “cruel” and “irrational”. It implied that it violates Article 21, and it should be removed to humanize penal codes. Further the honorable Supreme Court rendered that suicide or attempt to commit it causes no harm to others, due to which state’s interference with the personal liberty of the concerned person is named for.
- Despite this insightful observation by the Supreme Court, the decision was overruled in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab. Extermination of life is not included in the protection of life. It further stated that right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution did not include the ‘right to die’ or ‘right to be killed’ and thus an attempt to commit suicide under section 309, IPC or even abetment of suicide under section 306, IPC, are well within the constitutional mandated and aren’t void or ultra vires.
- The discussion between euthanasia which means withdrawal of life support for terminally ill patients came to the public eye in 2000, with the case Thomas Master v. Union of India. The Kerala High Court held that no distinction is often made between suicide and the right to voluntarily put an end to one’s life. Voluntary termination of one’s life for whatever reason would amount to suicide within the meaning of Sections 306 and 309, IPC. There can be no distinction between suicide committed by an individual who is either frustrated or defeated in life and that by a person like a petitioner. The question of whether suicide was committed impulsively or whether it was committed after elongated deliberation is irrelevant.
Attempts Made to Repeal Section 309, IPC
In 1971, the Law Commission in its 42nd Report recommended the repeal of Section 309 IPC. The IPC (Amendment) Bill, 1978, was even passed by Rajya Sabha, but before it could be passed by Lok Sabha, Parliament was dissolved, and the Bill lapsed.
The 18th Law Commission in its 210th Report titled ‘Humanization and Decriminalization of Attempt to Suicide’ submitted on October 17, 2008, said that any attempt to suicide needed medical and psychiatric care, and not punishment. In March 2011, the Supreme Court also recommended to Parliament that it should consider deleting the section. The matter did not, however, reach its conclusion.
The Mental Healthcare Act (MHCA) 2017 was enforced on May 29, 2018. This is often “an Act to provide for mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness (who have a substantial disorder and whose functioning is grossly impaired) and to protect, promote and fulfill the rights of such mentally ill persons, during delivery of mental healthcare services and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” It’s crucial to spotlight the very fact that in 2016 the words “mental illness” were replaced by “severe stress,” by the Indian Parliament.
Section 115 of MHCA states:
“Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 309 of the IPC, any person who attempts to die by suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code.”
Section 309 of IPC, which deals with those that plan to die by suicide, wasn’t only unsatisfactory but also discriminatory. If an individual failed within the plan to die, inflicting torture and degradation by punishment would be unreasonable and unjust. Such persons deserve compassionate and sympathetic treatment. Therefore, a suicide attempt is decriminalized by Section 115 of MHCA 2017, superseding Section 309 of IPC.
Suicide may be a legal anomaly wherein an attempted act is punishable while an accomplished act is not! The choice to repeal Section 309 shouldn’t be treated as a license to die, but as a chance for everybody around to support and look after those in distress; the social responsibility to stop suicides, and protect our citizens. At an equivalent time, steps must be taken to make sure that this doesn’t promote suicide-bombers, hunger strikes, or the other kind of protests that seek to exert unreasonable pressure on the state to be flexible on demands. The author would like to worry that albeit Section 309 is revoked the state must make sure that there are ample legislations and procedures to report all kinds of suicide attempts. Above all, it’s necessary to teach and make awareness among the general public at large to achieve the objectives and therefore the purpose of enactment of the MHCA 2017 concerning suicide and plan to die by suicide.
- AIR 1994 SC 1844 
- AIR 1996 SC 1257 
- http://www.corsinet.com/braincandy/dying3.html 
- https://www.iitk.ac.in/wc/data/IPC_186045.pdf 
- https://www.india.gov.in/sites/upload_files/npi/files/coi_contents.pdf 
- http://www.thebetterindia.com/17062/india-decriminalizes-attempt-suicide-positive-change-section-309- 
- http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report210.pdf 
- https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/sec-309-ipc-questions-and-issues-around-an-archaic-section-of-the-law-6468338/ 
- Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 97 
- Ministry of Law and Justice. The Mental Healthcare Act; Gazette of India. 2017. 
- Taber’s cyclopedic medical dictionary. 1993. 17 ed. New Delhi: Jaypee brothers.Thomas CL, p.1905 
- Varun Kumar, Right to Die and constitutionality of Section 309 IPC: a global perspective, Referred Research Journal, VOL-II*ISSUE 22 
- 2000 Cri LJ 3729 
 Taber’s cyclopedic medical dictionary. 1993. 17 ed. New
Delhi: Jaypee brothers.Thomas CL, p.1905
 Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 97
 AIR 1994 SC 1844
 AIR 1996 SC 1257
 Varun Kumar, Right to Die and constitutionality of Section 309 IPC: a global perspective, Referred Research Journal, VOL-II*ISSUE 22
 2000 Cri LJ 3729
 Ministry of Law and Justice. The Mental Healthcare Act; Gazette of India. 2017.