DIRECTOR of the Mental Health Institute, Dr. Util Richmond-Thomas, was recently quoted in the media as being “in full support of the decriminalisation of suicide and self-harm in Guyana.” The director is the latest in a long line of government officials who have made this call over the years. Non-Guyanese who have also made this call include British High Commissioner Greg Quinn and PAHO/WHO representative, Dr William Adu-Krow. However, a bill to decriminalise suicide and self-harm was moved in parliament by the political opposition in 2016. Piloted by Dr. Vindhya Persaud, the bill came about partly through the work of The Caribbean Voice, more specifically Dr Frank Anthony, a member of our Board of Directors. Although the government spoke in support of the bill, they argued that the manner in which the legislation was framed both politicised and trivialised the issue, but no explanation was ever provided to indicate how this was so.
In 2015, Minister Khemraj Ramjattan had called for the decriminalisation of suicide when he spoke at the launch of the Suicide Helpline. According to the minister, the decriminalisation could help to solve the whole issue of suicide in a more holistic manner and give persons an opportunity to reform themselves through counselling. Yet he was most vociferous in declaring that government would not support the motion in parliament in 2016.
In 2015, Minister Ramjattan also called for national consultations on the issue but nothing was ever done. However a 2016 poll commissioned by The Caribbean Voice found that most Guyanese agreed that suicide should be decriminalised. The following were the questions and responses obtained:
Should attempted suicide be decriminalised? Yes (74) No (8) Not Sure/No (18) Suicide is punishable under Chapter 801 Section 96 of the Criminal Law Offences Act, which states, “Everyone who attempts to commit suicide shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and liable to imprisonment for two years.” Also, Section 95 of the Criminal Law Offences Act Cap. 8:01, states, “Everyone who aids or abets any person in the commission of suicide shall be guilty of a felony and liable to imprisonment for life.” According to Dr William Adu-Krow, “If such a person escapes prosecution, this person is encouraged to commit suicide.” In addition to calling for the decriminalisation of suicide, he lamented that the existing legislation makes no provision for psychological assistance to survivors.
In October last year, Attorney General Basil Williams was quoted in the local media as stating that plans were afoot to decriminalise suicide. Almost a year later no move has been made towards this end.
In 2016, after the government voted against the bill, TCV called for a bipartisan committee to prepare and take another bill to parliament, but there was absolutely no response from the politicians. While we are aware that until elections are held no bills can be passed in parliament, we do repeat our call for a bipartisan committee to be set up to craft another bill so as to eliminate ‘Politicising and trivialising’ and ensure that next time around the bill becomes law. We also urge that this new legislation make provision for psychological assistance for suicide survivors’. Surely, this is something our politicians can agree on?
Sincerely, The Caribbean Voice
LINK ORIGINAL: Guyana Chronicle