Nigeria should stop treating attempted suicide as crime

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The Chief Medical Director, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Dr. Adegboyega Ogunlesi, has called for a review of the law which criminalises and prescribes one year imprisonment for anyone who attempts to commit suicide.

Ogunlesi, who argued that attempted suicide is more of a medical case than a criminal case, said it was unjust to punish someone who attempted to take his life, while there was no punishment for those who succeed in the act.

The medical doctor, who observed that attempted suicide was usually precipitated by depression and hopelessness, argued that what those who attempt to commit suicide needed was medical help rather than charging them to court.

Ogunlesi said this on Wednesday at the Lagos State Judiciary stakeholders submit on “Mental Health and Issues of the Law,” where he delivered a paper entitled, “Crime, the judiciary and issues surrounding plea of insanity.”

The doctor said, “Attempted suicide remains criminalised by virtue of Section 327 of the Criminal Code and the hapless victim risks imprisonment for one year. However, evidence abounds that a significant number of those who make an attempt to terminate their lives may have a wide range of psychological, personality and social pathologies that push

them to the cliff of mental disequilibrium, such that they resort to such a seeming absurdity. For some of these, the attempt on their lives is a cry for help or attempt by their disturbed minds to draw attention to their distress, a reflection of poor coping strategies and a manifestation of impulsive personality traits.

“The law, as it stands, exists to penalise the hapless ones who fail to complete their mission, while the successful ones – with greater liability – who are now beyond the reach of the same law are exempted from punishment. This is illogical, and injustice per excellence.”

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The doctor said the law which prescribed punishment for attempted murder might serve as an encouragement for depressed people to be more desperate to complete the act, since there was no punishment for suicide itself.

He called on the government to borrow a leaf from other countries that had abolished the law criminalising attempted suicide.

He said, “What sense does it make, for example, sentencing to prison an accused who, in a bout of depression, makes an attempt to terminate his life as a consequence of his hopelessness and depressive gloom, but fails to succeed in his mission? Criminalising it may encourage those who attempt suicide to be more desperate, discourage voluntary reporting, thus rendering our official suicide statistics unreliable.

“In other psychologically sophisticated jurisdictions, attempted suicide has been de-criminalised. Within Africa, attempted suicide is no longer criminalised in Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt, Eritrea, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In such countries, attitudes have shifted from viewing suicide attempt dominantly from the viewpoint of religion to a more compassionate and medical view.”

Source: The Punch

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