Law Reform Commission looks at decriminalising suicide

The Law Reform Commission has released a discussion paper recommending that suicide should no longer be a crime in the Cayman Islands.

The paper, released on Friday and which came about as a result of a referral from Attorney General Samuel Bulgin in January, made two core recommendations.

The first recommendation was that Cayman law should eliminate the provisions that make it a crime for a person to commit suicide, and the second was that the Mental Health Law 2013 should be maintained in its current form.

The Law Reform Commission found that the definition of ‘serious mental illness’ is appropriate to cover a person who is preparing to take their own life. The commission noted that the law makes provision for a suicidal person to be apprehended by a police officer and taken to a medical practitioner for assessment and observation.

The paper says there are no known examples of cases of prosecutions for suicide or attempted suicide in the Cayman Islands, but it says that people were prosecuted for suicide, or ‘self-murder’, in England and Wales until about 50 years ago. A person found guilty of suicide, even though dead, was subject to punishments including forfeiture of property to the Crown and being given a ‘profane burial’, and while most of those who attempted suicide and survived were discharged, some were fined or sent to prison for up to six months, the paper states.

The Law Reform Commission stated that eliminating the law making suicide illegal would bring Cayman closer in line to laws in the United Kingdom, Canada and around the world.

The discussion paper notes that the Cayman Islands are among a minority of countries – mainly from the African and Asian regions – that still criminalise suicide. The paper listed the Bahamas as a Caribbean nation that also makes suicide illegal. Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Malaysia and Singapore were also cited by the discussion paper.

The commission also determined that if in fact suicide is no longer a criminal offence, the Penal Code should be amended to retain assisted suicide as a substantive offence.

The amended section of the Penal Code would not just abrogate the law making suicide illegal; it would also insert language asserting criminal liability for complicity in another person’s suicide. Section 186B of the proposed amendment would make it illegal to encourage or assist in the attempted suicide of another person.

Notably, a person may commit an offence in that regard whether or not an attempted suicide ever occurs. The maximum penalty for encouraging or assisting an attempted suicide would be 14 years imprisonment. The new section also provides that if a trial for an indictment of murder or manslaughter proves that the deceased person committed suicide, the accused may still be found guilty of assisting in that suicide.

Section 41 of the recently enacted Health Care Decisions Law states that a doctor may withdraw all life-sustaining measures from a patient who has been certified as brain dead. The discussion paper states that a physician who complied with section 41 of the Health Care Decisions Law would not be guilty of an offence.

The discussion document referred to a recent survey by the National Drug Council and the Alex Panton Foundation of school and college students which indicated that the rates of suicide are continuously rising in the Cayman Islands, particularly among children and young people. One in three children surveyed reported suicidal ideation and 13% reported actual attempted suicide. The survey also suggested that only 5% of these children in need are seeking treatment.

Stakeholders and members of the general public will have the opportunity to comment on the issues in the discussion paper, which can be viewed at www.lrc.gov.ky. People who want to heard can submit their comments to the Director of Law Reform Commission by 21 Oct. 2019 electronically at [email protected]

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