Oral Replies to Parliamentary Questions

Oral Reply to Parliamentary Question on Criminalisation of Suicide by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development

Published: 07 November 2016


Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) why does Singapore support the criminalisation of suicide and oppose its decriminalisation; (b) what is the psychological support provided after the police arrests a person for attempting suicide, especially those who appear mentally unstable; (c) whether the cuffing of suicide attempters is beneficial to the psychological state of suicide attempters; and (d) what is the rehabilitation framework (admission, deterrence, treatment and aftercare phases) available for those charged with and imprisoned for attempted suicide.



1. Madam, it has been a criminal offence to attempt suicide. It was thought to be important that society should signal through the law that it opposes people taking their own lives. But in practice, prosecutions are rare.


2. Police officers try to respond to cases of attempted suicide with sensitivity and compassion. Persons who attempt suicide are emotionally and psychologically distressed, they're literally at the brink. When responding to such cases, the priority of the Police is to ensure the person's safety. Police officers try to look out for signs of suicidal tendencies, and take this into consideration in their response.


3. As regard arrests, Police arrest persons for cases of attempted suicide usually to prevent them from doing harm, either to themselves or to others. When it is assessed that there is no such risk, they may not be arrested.


4. When an arrest is made, Police officers use handcuffs when the assessment is that there is a need to ensure the safety of the person; to prevent the person from further self-harm; to prevent the person from causing harm to escorting officers or members of the public in the vicinity; or to prevent the person from absconding.


5. For all cases of attempted suicide, Police will recommend the appropriate follow-up. Police may refer the person to the Samaritans of Singapore for counselling, or engage the next-of-kin to assist in supporting and caring for the person. If there are clear signs indicating possible mental instability, Police may refer the person to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for an assessment of the person's mental state. If deemed necessary by medical professionals, the person may subsequently be warded at the IMH for care and treatment.


6. As I said earlier, prosecutions are rare. In 2015, two persons were prosecuted for attempted suicide, out of 1096 reported cases of attempted suicide. Imprisonments are even rarer. In the five years over 2011 – 2015, five persons who were charged for attempted suicide were imprisoned.


7. Prison inmates who are observed to exhibit suicidal tendencies will be referred to a psychiatrist for assessment. A multi-disciplinary approach is adopted and psychologists or counsellors may be involved in the management and care of the inmate.


8. Government agencies such as the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Health work closely with partners in the social services sector on programmes for public education, suicide prevention and support.


9. Madam, everyone has a part to play in paying attention to warning signs of suicidal tendencies of the people around us, especially family and friends. We should not hesitate to refer those who need support to the services that are available.