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Attempt under the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017

Mental Healthcare Act

The introduction of the Mental Healthcare Act in 2017 has led to discussions about the fate of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with suicide. While some believe that the Act has abolished or decriminalized Section 309, it’s essential to clarify that this is not the case. The Mental Healthcare Act doesn’t repeal Section 309 but rather limits its application.

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According to Section 115 of the Act, if a person attempts suicide, it is assumed that they were under severe stress, and as a result, they should not be prosecuted or punished under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. However, it’s important to note that the Act doesn’t completely abolish Section 309 or apply it to all suicide attempts. Instead, it places a legal obligation on the government to provide treatment and rehabilitation to those who attempt suicide to reduce the likelihood of future attempts.

In summary, the Act doesn’t entirely remove Section 309 but focuses on addressing the underlying mental health issues and stress that may lead to suicide attempts, emphasizing prevention and care.

Arguments Surrounding Suicide Attempts

While suicide prevention and mental health support are critical, it’s worth noting that in India, attempting suicide is considered a criminal act according to Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which dates back to 1860.

Decriminalisation of Attempt to Suicide 

  1. Removing Legal Penalties for Suicide Attempts: By decriminalizing suicide attempts, we can diminish the stigma associated with such acts and prevent individuals from facing punishment after a suicide attempt. This also paves the way for more accurate collection of suicide-related statistics.
  2. Psychiatric Illness as a Leading Cause: Research indicates that psychiatric illnesses, particularly depression and other mental disorders, are significant contributors to non-fatal suicide attempts in both adults and children. Additional risk factors include childhood adversities such as abuse, substance abuse, stressful life events, and severe health diagnoses.
  3. A Call for Assistance, Not Punishment: People who attempt suicide are in need of assistance rather than punishment, primarily due to the high risk of mental and psychological issues. The philosophical debate surrounding an individual’s right to life and death persists across various perspectives.
  4. Global Decriminalization of Suicide: The World Health Organization reports that suicide has been decriminalized in 59 countries worldwide. Attempted suicide is no longer considered a crime in regions including Europe, North America, parts of South America, and some parts of Asia.
  5. Legal and Medical Procedures Vary: Nations under English common law tended to decriminalize suicide attempts later than those in continental Europe and Scandinavia. In these countries, legal and coroner involvement in suicide certification is more extensive.
  6. Improving Access to Mental Health Care: Decriminalization allows individuals who have attempted suicide and their families to seek mental health care more openly. This compassionate approach is more favorable than prosecution and aids in the collection of accurate data on suicide rates.
  7. Combatting Hidden Issues: Criminalizing suicidal acts makes suicide a hidden problem, making it difficult for those in need to access help. Enhanced and precise statistics are essential for effective suicide prevention efforts.
  8. Better Planning for Prevention: By decriminalizing suicide attempts, we can ensure improved planning and resource allocation for suicide prevention initiatives. This change can ultimately save lives and offer support to those struggling with mental health issues.

Reasons to Oppose Decriminalization

  1. Religious and Cultural Beliefs: One significant argument against decriminalizing suicide revolves around the belief that only a divine force should determine the timing of a person’s death. Many world religions have historically condemned suicide, and it’s often not accorded traditional funeral rites in various ethnic communities. For instance, in Hinduism, suicide is not considered a path to salvation but is associated with bringing shame to the family and society.
  2. Deterrent Effect of the Law: Another argument supporting the criminalization of suicide is the notion that having laws in place can deter future suicide attempts. However, it remains uncertain whether the existence of laws penalizing suicide attempts actually discourages people from trying. Surprisingly, even when people are aware of such laws, it doesn’t always dissuade them. For instance, a study conducted in a general hospital emergency department found that a substantial percentage of individuals were aware of the law in India (Section 309) but still attempted suicide.


The 1996 case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab may have its supporters, but the reasoning behind the Apex Court’s decision is a subject of disagreement for many. It’s worth noting that the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 remains unfamiliar to the general public and even some police officers. To ensure the successful implementation of the provisions we’ve discussed, it’s essential to launch an educational campaign to inform and train them about this law.

Read Also: Constitutionality of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

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