Suicide is a crime in some parts of the world. However, while suicide has been decriminalized in many countries, the act is almost universally stigmatized and discouraged. In some contexts, suicide could be utilized as an extreme expression of liberty, as is exemplified by its usage as an expression of devout dissent towards perceived tyranny or injustice which occurred occasionally in cultures such as ancient Rome, medieval Japan, or today's Tibet Autonomous Region.
While a person who has died of suicide is beyond the reach of the law, there can still be legal consequences in relation to treatment of the corpse or the fate of the person's property or family members. The associated matters of assisting a suicide and attempting suicide have also been dealt with by the laws of some jurisdictions. Some countries criminalise suicide attempts.
In ancient Athens, a person who had died of suicide (without the approval of the state) was denied the honours of a normal burial. The person would be buried alone, on the outskirts of the city, without a headstone or marker.
A criminal ordinance issued by Louis XIV in 1670 was far more severe in its punishment: the dead person's body was drawn through the streets, face down, and then hung or thrown on a garbage heap. Additionally, all of the person's property was confiscated.
In many jurisdictions, it is a crime to assist others, directly or indirectly, in taking their own lives. Such legislation requires manufacturers of weapons to refuse sales to those deemed at potential risk of suicide. In some jurisdictions, it is also illegal to encourage people to attempt suicide, though the classification of the crime and its punishment varies. Sometimes an exception applies for physician assisted suicide, under strict conditions.
Laws in individual jurisdictions (table)
|Suicide||Physician-assisted suicide||Voluntary euthanasia|
|Central African Republic||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
|Ghana||Legal||Illegal||Illegal||Suicide attempts decriminalized in 2022.|
|Nigeria||Illegal||Illegal||Illegal||Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act in Nigeria (Attempting to commit suicide) says, "Any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year."|
|Republic of the Congo||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
North and South Americas
|Suicide||Physician-assisted suicide||Voluntary euthanasia|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Legal||Illegal||Illegal|
|British Virgin Islands||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
|Guyana||Legal||Illegal||Illegal||Suicide attempts decriminalized in 2022.|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
|Turks and Caicos Islands||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
| United States
(50 states and integral territories)
|Legal||Legal in some states||Illegal|
|United States Virgin Islands||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
|Suicide||Physician-assisted suicide||Voluntary euthanasia|
|China||Legal||Illegal||Illegal||Suicide in China|
|Lebanon||Illegal||Illegal||Illegal||Penalty for an attempted suicide: 3 months up to 5 years' imprisonment.|||
|North Korea||Illegal||Illegal||Illegal||According to Radio Free Asia on 5 June 2023, the North Korean regime declared suicide an "act of treason against socialism".|||
|United Arab Emirates||Legal||Illegal||Illegal|||
|Suicide||Physician-assisted suicide||Voluntary euthanasia|
|Austria||Legal||Legal||Illegal||Killing a person on request by such person, or aiding or helping another person to commit suicide is punished with imprisonment of 6 months up to 5 years.|||
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Legal||Illegal||Illegal||Unknown|
|Georgia||Legal||Illegal||Illegal||A suicide attempt is punished by a fine of 500 Lari.|||
|Liechtenstein||Legal||Illegal||Illegal||Killing somebody on request, or aiding somebody to commit suicide is punished with imprisonment from six months up to five years.|
|Suicide||Physician-assisted suicide||Voluntary euthanasia|
|Australia||Legal||Legal, except for Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory||Legal, except for Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory|
|Northern Mariana Islands||Legal||Illegal||Illegal||Unknown|
|Papua New Guinea||Illegal||Illegal||Illegal|||
Laws in individual jurisdictions
In the Australian state of Victoria, while suicide itself is no longer a crime, a survivor of a suicide pact can be charged with manslaughter rather than murder if they killed the deceased party. Also, it is a crime to counsel, incite, or aid and abet another in attempting suicide, and the law explicitly allows any person to use "such force as may reasonably be necessary" to prevent another from committing suicide.
On 29 November 2017, the state of Victoria passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act, making it legal for a doctor to assist a terminally ill patient with less than six months to live to end their own life. The law came into effect on 19 June 2019.
|Jurisdiction||Laws passed||Commencement date|
|Victoria||29 November 2017||19 June 2019|
|Western Australia||19 December 2019||1 July 2021|
|Tasmania||4 March 2021||23 October 2022|
|Queensland||16 September 2021||1 January 2023|
|South Australia||23 June 2021||31 January 2023|
|New South Wales||19 May 2022||28 November 2023|
|Australian Capital Territory||No|
|Jurisdiction||Laws passed||Commencement date||Nullified|
|Northern Territory||25 May 1995||1 July 1996||27 June 1997|
Australian Capital Territory
Australian Capital Territory (ACT) governments had regularly advocated for the right to legalise euthanasia-related schemes between 1997 and 2022, when the federal ban was in practice. Shortly after the federal ban was repealed, the ACT government confirmed it would seek to introduce legislation into the ACT Legislative Assembly in 2023 to permit voluntary assisted dying. A formal consultation period was opened by the government in February 2023, which culminated in a report endorsing the establishment of a voluntary assisted dying scheme, published on 29 June 2023. On 31 October 2023, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2023 was introduced into the Legislative Assembly and immediatley referred to a select committee for further consultation, to report back by 29 February 2024. Under the current legislation, a person would be eligible for voluntary assited dying if they are aged over 18, seeking it voluntarily with decision-making capability, intolerably suffering an advanced-progressive condition expected to cause death, and lives local to the ACT for at least 12 months or with a significant Canberra connection.
New South Wales
On 21 September 2017 National Party MLC Trevor Khan introduced the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 into the New South Wales Parliament. The Bill was modelled on the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, and was developed by a cross party working group that considered 72 "substantial" submissions. The Bill contained what advocates labelled a "raft of safeguards" including a seven-person oversight board to review all assisted deaths. The upper house debated the bill throughout several sittings in November 2017, and on 16 November the bill was voted down 20 votes to 19.
In October 2021 independent MLA Alex Greenwich introduced the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill into the lower house of the Parliament. The legislation was subjected to a cross-party conscience vote, after Premier and Liberal Party leader Dominic Perrottet indicated he would grant Liberal members a conscience vote. The legislation was passed in the Legislative Assembly on 26 November 2021 by 52 votes to 32, and proceeded to the Legislative Council. The bill passed the Legislative Council by 23 votes to 15 on 19 May 2022, with amendments attached, that were agreed to by the Assembly that same day. The legislation received royal assent on 27 May 2022, and will go into effect 18 months thereafter.
Under the provisions of the legislation, a person may make a request for a voluntary assisted death to a specialist doctor, which is lodged with the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board. If the doctor is satisfied that the person has the capacity to make the decision and is doing so voluntarily and determines that the person meets the criteria (i.e: they have a terminal illness that will result in death within six months, or a neurodegenerative condition that will result in death within 12 months, and whose suffering is such that it creates a painful condition that cannot be tolerably relieved), they can approve the request. The same process must then be followed by a second independent doctor. The person may then make a written request declaring their intention to end their life, which must be witnessed by two people and then be submitted to the board. A final request must be made five days later and a review done by the first doctor, who can then apply to the Voluntary Assisted Dying Board to allow access to a substance to end their patient's life. The person may administer the relevant substance themselves or have a health practitioner do it.
Euthanasia was legalised in Australia's Northern Territory, by the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995. It passed the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly by a vote of 15 to 10. In August 1996 a repeal bill was brought before the Parliament but was defeated by 14 votes to 11. The law was later voided by the federal Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, which is a federal law that was in effect until 13 December 2022 and prevented parliaments of territories (Specifically the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Norfolk Island) from legalising euthanasia or assisted dying. Before the federal override occurred, three people died through physician assisted suicide under the legislation, aided by Dr Philip Nitschke. The first person was a carpenter, Bob Dent, who died on 22 September 1996.
|Party||Votes for||Votes against|
|Country Liberal (17)|
In November 2018, the Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, launched an inquiry considering the possible legalisation of voluntary assisted dying in the state. The inquiry also took into account care of the aged, end of life, and palliative care.
In May 2021, Palaszczuk announced that voluntary assisted dying legislation would be introduced to the Queensland Parliament for consideration. The bill would allow euthanasia, if the patient meets the following criteria:
- Has an eligible condition that is advanced and progressive, with the potential for death within the subsequent 12 months;
- Is capable of making a decision with sound mind;
- Is acting voluntarily and without coercion;
- Is at least 18 years old; and
- Is a resident of Australia and has lived in Queensland for at least twelve months.
On 16 September 2021, the Queensland Legislative Assembly passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 with 61 votes in favour and 31 opposed. The legislation was subject to a conscience vote. It received royal assent on 23 September 2021 went into effect on 1 January 2023.
|Party||Votes for||Votes against||Abstained/Absent|
|Liberal National (34)||
|Katter's Australian (3)||–||–|
|One Nation (1)||–|
In November 2016, the South Australian House of Assembly narrowly rejected a private member's bill which would have legalised a right to request voluntary euthanasia in circumstances where a person is in unbearable pain and suffering from a terminal illness. The bill was the first ever euthanasia bill to pass a second reading stage (27 votes to 19) though the bill was rejected during the clauses debate of the bill (23 votes all, with the Speaker's casting vote against the bill).
In late June 2021, a voluntary euthanasia bill similar to that of other states passed the Parliament of South Australia. The legislation mirrors most of the provisions of the Victorian law, though also allows private hospitals and individual practitioners to conscientiously object from participating in the scheme, provided they refer patients to a place where they can access the scheme. Residents in aged care and retirement villages can also access the scheme in their own homes or units. The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2021 went into effect on 31 January 2023.
Details of 2021 parliamentary votes on legalisation of assisted dying in South Australia
Tasmania came close to legalising voluntary euthanasia in November 2013, when a Greens-initiated voluntary euthanasia bill was narrowly defeated in the House of Assembly by a vote of 13–12. The bill would have allowed terminally ill Tasmanians to end their lives 10 days after making three separate requests to their doctor. Although both major parties allowed a conscience vote, all ten Liberals voted against the legislation, with Labor splitting seven in favour and three against, and all five Greens voting in favour.
In December 2019, independent Legislative Council member Mike Gaffney announced he would introduce a private member's bill to legalise voluntary assisted dying the following year. The End of Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Bill was introduced to the Council on 27 August and was passed on 10 November 2020, without a formal vote being recorded. It proceeded to the Legislative Assembly, where it was passed with amendments attached on 4 March 2021 by 16 votes to 6. After the Council approved of the Assembly's amendments, the legislation received royal assent on 22 April 2021. The legislation went into effect on 23 October 2022.
Under the provisions of the legislation, in order to access the scheme a person must be at least 18 years of age, have decision-making capacity, be acting voluntarily and be suffering intolerably from a medical condition that is advanced, incurable, irreversible and will cause the person's death in the next six months, or 12 months for neurodegenerative disorders. The person must also be an Australian citizen or have resided in the country for at least three continuous years, and for at least 12 months in Tasmania immediately before making their first request. In total three separate requests must be made to access the scheme, each of which comes with progressively more stringent checks and balances.
|Party||Votes for||Votes against||Abstained/Absent|
Since 19 June 2019, Victoria permits assisted dying. On 20 September 2017, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 was introduced into the Victorian Parliament by the Andrews Labor Government, permitting assisted suicide. The bill was modelled on the recommendations of an expert panel chaired by former Australian Medical Association president Professor Brian Owler. The bill passed the parliament, with amendments made in the Legislative Council, on 29 November 2017. The upper house voted in favour 22 votes to 18. The lower house voted in favour 47 votes to 37. In passing the bill, Victoria became the first state to legislate for voluntary assisted dying (VAD). The law received royal assent on 5 December 2017 and came into effect on 19 June 2019. Implementation of the legislation was an ongoing process which took approximately 18 months. Challenges identified with implementation which were by noted by the Medical Journal of Australia included restricting access to those who were eligible, while ensuring it did not unfairly prevent those who were eligible from accessing it and translating the legislation into appropriate clinical practice, as well as supporting and managing doctors with conscientious objections.
Under the provisions of the legislation, assisted suicide (otherwise referred to as voluntary assisted dying) may be available in Victoria under the following conditions:
- A person must be suffering from an incurable, advanced and progressive disease, illness or medical condition, and experiencing intolerable suffering.
- The condition must be assessed by two medical practitioners to be expected to cause death within six months (an exception exists for a person suffering from a neurodegenerative condition, where instead the condition must be expected to cause death within 12 months).
- A person must be over the age of 18 and have lived in Victoria for at least 12 months and have decision-making capacity.
- Though mental illness or disability are not grounds for access, people who meet all other criteria and who have a disability or mental illness will not be denied access to assisted dying.
Other processes and safeguards associated with the scheme are in place.
|Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 – Third Reading in Legislative Council|
|Party||Votes for||Votes against||Absent|
|Shooters, Fishers, Farmers (2)||–||–|
|Australian Conservatives (1)||–||–|
|Australian Sex Party (1)||–||–|
|Vote 1 Local Jobs (1)||–||–|
On 10 December 2019, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2019 passed the Western Australian Parliament. The legislation had passed the Legislative Council by 24 votes to 11, having previously passed the Legislative Assembly 45 votes to 11. Under the legislation, an eligible person would have to be terminally ill with a condition that is causing intolerable suffering and is likely to cause death within six months, or 12 months for a neurodegenerative condition. The person would have to make two verbal requests and one written request, with each request signed off by two independent doctors. Self-administration of lethal medication is then permitted, though in a departure from the Victorian system, a patient can choose for a medical practitioner to administer the drug. The legislation goes into effect on a day to be fixed by proclamation, though the government has advised of an 18-month implementation period. The law went into effect on 1 July 2021.
Legislation decriminalizing suicide in Australian States and Territories
|Australian Capital Territory||Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) s 16|
|New South Wales||Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) s 31A|
|Northern Territory||Criminal Code (NT) s 186 (repealed)|
|Queensland||Criminal Code 1899 (Qld) s 312 (repealed by Criminal Law Amendment Act (1979) s 4)|
|South Australia||Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1932 (SA) s 13A|
|Tasmania||Criminal Code 1924 (Tas) s 163|
|Victoria||Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 6A|
|Western Australia||Criminal Code 1899 (WA) s 289 (repealed by Criminal Code Amendment Act 1972 s 10)|
The common-law crimes of attempting suicide and of assisting suicide were codified in Canada when Parliament enacted the Criminal Code in 1892. It carried a maximum penalty of 2 years' imprisonment. Eighty years later, in 1972, Parliament repealed the offence of attempting suicide from the Criminal Code based on the argument that a legal deterrent was unnecessary. The prohibition on assisting suicide remained, as s 241 of the Criminal Code:
- Counselling or aiding suicide
- 241. Every one who
- (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or
- (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide,
- whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.
However, the law against assisted suicide, including physician-assisted suicide, was the subject of much debate including two reports of the Law Reform Commission of Canada in 1982 and 1983, though these did not support changing the law.
In 1993, the offence of assisted suicide survived a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General). The plaintiff, Sue Rodriguez, had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in early 1991. She wished to be able to die of suicide at a time of her own choosing but would require assistance to do so because her physical condition prevented her from doing so without assistance. By a 5-4 majority, the Court held that the prohibition on assisted suicide did not infringe s 7 of the Canadian Charter of RIghts and Freedoms, which provides constitutional protection for liberty and security of the person. The majority held that while the law did affect those rights, it did so in a manner consistent with the principles of fundamental justice. The majority also held that the prohibition on assisted suicide did not infringe the Charter's prohibition against cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. Assuming the prohibition did discriminate on basis of disability, the majority held that the infringement was a justifiable restriction under s 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In 1995 the Senate issued a report on assisted suicide entitled Of Life and Death. In 2011, the Royal Society of Canada published its report on end-of-life decision-making. In the report it recommended that the Criminal Code be modified so as to permit assistance in dying under some circumstances. In 2012, a Select Committee on Dying with Dignity of the Quebec National Assembly produced a report recommending amendments to legislation to recognize medical aid in dying as being an appropriate component of end-of-life care. That report resulted in An Act respecting end-of-life care, which came into force on December 10, 2015.
On June 15, 2012, in Carter v Canada (AG), the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that the criminal offence prohibiting physician assistance of suicide was unconstitutional on the grounds that denying people access to assisted suicide in hard cases was contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee of equality under Section 15. This decision was subsequently overturned by the majority of the British Columbia Court of Appeal (2:1) on the basis that the issue had already been decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Rodriguez case, invoking stare decisis.
A landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision on February 6, 2015 overturned the 1993 Rodriguez decision that had ruled against this method of dying. The unanimous decision in the further appeal of Carter v Canada (AG), stated that a total prohibition of physician-assisted death is unconstitutional. The court's ruling limits exculpation of physicians engaging physician-assisted death to hard cases of "a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including an illness, disease or disability, that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition." The ruling was suspended for 12 months to allow the Canadian parliament to draft a new, constitutional law to replace the existing one.
Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the current legislation was overbroad in that it prohibits "physician‑assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition." The court decision includes a requirement that there must be stringent limits that are "scrupulously monitored." This will require the death certificate to be completed by an independent medical examiner, not the treating physician, to ensure the accuracy of reporting the cause of death.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) reported that not all doctors would be willing to help a patient die. The belief in late 2015 was that no physician would be forced to do so. The CMA was already offering educational sessions to members as to the process that would be used after the legislation had been implemented.
The Indian penal code 309 deals with punishment for attempted suicide. The Mental Health Care Act 2017 greatly limits the scope for the code to be implemented. The bill states, "Any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code". State governments are required to provide adequate care and rehabilitation for such individuals as to prevent a recurrence of an attempt to suicide.
The act of suicide has not been criminalized in the penal law of the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, no one is allowed to ask another to kill him/her. In addition, threatening to kill oneself is not an offense by the law, however if this act of threatening is done by a prisoner in a prison, then that would be considered as violation of the prisons' regulations and the offender may be punished according to penal law.
According to the Act. 836 of the civil law of the Islamic Republic of Iran if a suicidal person prepares for suicide and writes a testament, if he/she dies, then by law the will is considered void and if he/she does not die, then the will is officially accepted and can be carried out.
According to the theory of "borrowed crime", suicide itself is not a crime in penal law and thus any type of assistance in an individual's suicide is not considered a crime and the assistant is not punished. Assisting in suicide is considered a crime only when it becomes the "cause" of the suicidal person's death; for example when someone takes advantage of someone else's unawareness or simplicity and convince him/her to kill him/herself. In such cases assisting in suicide is treated as murder and the offender is punished accordingly. In addition, assisting in suicide is considered a crime under section 2 of the Act. 15 of the cyber crimes law of the Islamic Republic of Iran which was legislated on June 15, 2009. According to the mentioned act, any type of encouragement, stimulation, invitation, simplification of access to lethal substances and/or methods and teaching of suicide with the help of computer or any other media network is considered assisting in suicide and thus, is punished by imprisonment from 91 days up to one year or fines from five to 20 million Iranian Rials or both.
Attempted suicide is not a criminal offence in Ireland and, under Irish law, self-harm is not generally seen as a form of attempted suicide. It was decriminalized in 1993. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal. This has been challenged in the High Court in 2012. As of 2014[update], assisted suicide remains illegal in Ireland.
This section needs to be updated.(November 2023)
Under section 309 of the Penal Code of Malaysia, whoever attempts to commit suicide, and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both. There are ongoing efforts to decriminalize attempted suicide, although rights groups and non-governmental organisations such as the local chapter of Befrienders note that progress has been slow. Proponents of decriminalization argue that suicide legislation may deter people from seeking help, and may even strengthen the resolve of would-be suicides to end their lives to avoid prosecution. The first reading of a bill to repeal Section 309 of the Penal Code was tabled in Parliament in April 2023, bringing Malaysia one step closer towards decriminalizing attempted suicide.
In the Netherlands, being present and giving moral support during someone's suicide is not a crime; neither is supplying general information on suicide techniques. However, it is a crime to participate in the preparation for or execution of a suicide, including supplying lethal means or instruction in their use.
As with many other western societies, New Zealand has, since the 1961 Crimes Act, had no laws against suicide in itself, as a personal and unassisted act. Assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia will be legal in certain circumstances as from November 2021.
Suicide itself is not illegal in Romania, however encouraging or facilitating the suicide of another person is a criminal offense and is punishable by up to 7, 10 or 20 years in prison, depending on circumstances.
In Russia, a person whose mental disorder "poses a direct danger to themself"[verification needed] can be put into a psychiatric hospital. In addition, after hospitalization in a psychiatric hospital, such a citizen of the Russian Federation may be subject to medical restrictions in the form of a driver's license or non-admission to obtain them, as well as such citizens are not allowed to serve in the army, police and other law enforcement agencies and many other restrictions on employment.
In practice, this happens as follows: A failed suicider, detained by the police, for example, is taken to the department, then a psychiatric ambulance is called, a psychiatrist on duty who arrives at the scene decides whether a citizen detained by the police needs hospitalization. In case of hospitalization in a psychiatric hospital, the patient is placed in a ward of enhanced supervision for the first three days, then transferred to the suicidology department. In most cases, such citizens are kept in hospital for no more than one month, in rare cases longer, but very rarely they are discharged less than a month after hospitalization.
Incitement to suicide:
Inciting someone to suicide by threats, cruel treatment, or systematic humiliation is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. (Article 110 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation)
Federal law of Russian Federation no. 139-FZ of 2012-07-28 prescribes censorship of information about methods of suicide on the Internet. According to a website created by the Pirate Party of Russia, some pages with suicide jokes have been blacklisted, which may have led to blocking of an IP address of Wikia.
Suicide has been decriminalized since 5 May 2019, with the passing of the Criminal Law Reform Act, which repealed Section 309 of the Singapore Penal Code. The law took effect on 1 January 2020.
South African courts, including the Appellate Division, have ruled that suicide and attempted suicide are not crimes under the Roman-Dutch law, or that if they ever were crimes, they have been abrogated by disuse. Attempted suicide was from 1886 to 1968 a crime in the Transkei, a former bantustan, under the Transkeian Territories Penal Code.
England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Suicide was never a statutory criminal offence. English common law perceived suicide as an immoral, criminal offence against God and also against the Crown. The common law offence of felo de se was used to punish people who had attempted suicide and their surviving relatives. A person who had died by suicide could have been denied burial, or their estate forfeited to the Crown, while survivors of suicide attempts could be punished by imprisonment or death. Posthumous punishment stopped in the 19th century, and appetite for punishing survivors of suicide attempts waned until this was decriminalized by the passing of the Suicide Act 1961 and the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1966; these same acts made it an offence to assist in a suicide.
With respect to civil law the simple act of suicide is lawful but the consequences of dying by suicide might turn an individual event into an unlawful act, as in the case of Reeves v Commissioners of Police of the Metropolis  1 AC 360, where a man in police custody hanged himself and was held equally liable with the police (a cell door defect enabled the hanging) for the loss suffered by his widow; the practical effect was to reduce the police damages liability by 50%. In 2009, the House of Lords ruled that the law concerning the treatment of people who accompanied those who died of assisted suicide was unclear, following Debbie Purdy's case that this lack of clarity was a breach of her human rights. (In her case, as someone with multiple sclerosis, she wanted to know whether her husband would be prosecuted for accompanying her abroad where she might eventually wish to die of assisted suicide, if her illness progressed.)
Suicide was never a statutory criminal offence. Under Scots Law, survivors of suicide attempts may be arrested and prosecuted for associated common law offences such as breach of the peace or culpable and reckless conduct. Although the Scottish Government has never legislated to formally decriminalize suicide, a 2009 Appeal Court case, which found that a breach of the peace must have an element of disruption to the community, substantially reduced the likelihood of securing a successful prosecution for suicide attempts. Subsequently the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service instructed Police Scotland to deal with cases of attempted suicide which come to their notice by means other than arrest, even where an offence such as breach of the peace may have been committed. Police Scotland has advised officers:
...persons attempting or threatening suicide were no longer to be arrested for a breach of the peace unless the actions have caused or threatened to cause injury to another or endangered or threatened to another person's safety (e.g. threatening to jump from a bridge onto a motorway)... As a result of the COPFS direction, the common law charge of Suicidal Breach of the Peace is no longer competent in the vast majority of cases involving people in mental health crisis. Officers should refrain from using it to simply utilise the power of arrest and place someone in custody because it's operationally expedient to do so.
Despite these recommendations, occasional arrests and prosecutions for suicide attempts continue. Consequential liability upon a person attempting suicide (or if dead, his/her estate) might arise under civil law where it parallels the civil liabilities recognized in the (English Law) Reeves case mentioned above.
Assisting a suicide in Scotland can in some circumstances constitute murder, culpable homicide, or no offence depending upon the facts of each case. No modern examples of cases devoid of direct application of intentional or unintentional harm (such as helping a person to inject themselves) seem to be available; it was noted in a consultation preceding the introduction of the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill that "the law appears to be subject to some uncertainty, partly because of a lack of relevant case law".
In the United States of America, some topics are determined by federal law whereas others differ across states. The information on suicide prevention legislation will be discussed at the federal level first and will be followed by those states that have some form of legislation.
Historically, various states listed the act of suicide as a felony, but these policies were sparsely enforced. In the late 1960s, 18 U.S. states had no laws against suicide. By the late 1980s, 30 of the 50 states had no laws against suicide or suicide attempts, but every state had laws declaring it to be a felony to aid, advise, or encourage another person to suicide. By the early 1990s only two states still listed suicide as a crime, and these have since removed that classification. In some U.S. states, suicide is still considered an unwritten "common law crime," as stated in Blackstone's Commentaries. (So held the Virginia Supreme Court in 1992. Wackwitz v. Roy, 418 S.E.2d 861 (Va. 1992)). As a common law crime, suicide can bar recovery for the late suicidal person's family in a lawsuit unless the suicidal person can be proven to have been "of unsound mind." That is, the suicide must be proven to have been an involuntary act of the victim in order for the family to be awarded monetary damages by the court. This can occur when the family of the deceased sues the caregiver (perhaps a jail or hospital) for negligence in failing to provide appropriate care. Some American legal scholars look at the issue as one of personal liberty. According to Nadine Strossen, former President of the ACLU, "The idea of government making determinations about how you end your life, forcing you...could be considered cruel and unusual punishment in certain circumstances, and Justice Stevens in a very interesting opinion in a right-to-die [case] raised the analogy." Physician-assisted suicide is legal in some states. For the terminally ill, it is legal in the state of Oregon under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. In Washington state, it became legal in 2009, when a law modeled after the Oregon act, the Washington Death with Dignity Act was passed. A patient must be diagnosed as having less than six months to live, be of sound mind, make a request orally and in writing, have it approved by two different doctors, then wait 15 days and make the request again. A doctor may prescribe a lethal dose of a medication but may not administer it.
In California, medical facilities are empowered or required to commit anyone whom they believe to be suicidal for evaluation and treatment.
Back in 2004, Congress passed the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (GLSMA). The GLSMA made federal funding available for the first time to states, tribes, and colleges across the nation to implement community-based youth and young adult suicide prevention programs. Many of these programs had goals based on the National Suicide Prevention Strategy that was designed in 2001, including increased community-based prevention and stigma reduction among others.
In October 2020, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act came into effect. This law states that there was to be a transition from a 10-digit hotline number to a universal 3-digit hotline number, which should be familiar and recognizable to everyone. On top of that, in May 2021, the Suicide Prevention Act passed the House, and was being considered by the Senate. This Act would authorize a pilot program to intensify surveillance of self-harm and establish a grant program to provide more self-harm and suicide prevention services across the country.
On July 16, 2022, the US transitioned the National Suicide Hotline from the former 10-digit number into the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, linking both the National Suicide Hotline, the Veterans Crisis Line, and a network of more than 200 state and local call centers run through SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The State of California has introduced several bills related to suicide over the last couple of years, most of which are related to youth. In 2016, Assembly Bill 2246 was passed, which required school districts to have a suicide prevention policy that addresses the needs of their highest-risk pupils in grades 7 to 12. Since then, the Bill has been amended twice. First, in 2018, AB 2639 was passed, which required school districts to update their policy once every five years. Then, in 2019, AB 1767 was passed. Because of this amendment, districts serving kindergarten to 6th grade will also have to have a suicide prevention policy.
Lastly, also in 2019, the governor signed AB 984. This Bill allows people to send their excess tax payments to a special Suicide Prevention Fund. This fund is supposed to award grants and help fund crisis centers.
The State of Utah has so far passed the most bills relating to suicide prevention, with a total of 21 suicide-related bills. A large number of these bills have been for school-based suicide prevention, including suicide prevention training for all school staff (HB 501), grant awards for programs in elementary schools to increase peer-to-peer suicide prevention (HB 346), and an expanded scope to specifically include the suicide risk of youth not accepted by family, especially LGBTQ-youth (HB 393). Other bills have included topics such as increased attention for suicide prevention in substance use treatment (HB 346), bereavement services (HB 336), and suicide prevention programs related to firearm use (HB 17). Moreover, the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) has Zero Suicides as one of their policies, using this as a framework to guide their actions.
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- ES Shneidman (1989). "Approaches and commonalities of suicide". Suicide and Its Prevention: The Role of Attitude and Imitation. Suicide and its prevention. p. 24. ISBN 978-90-04-08613-5.
- On Sound and Unsound Mind: The Role of Suicide in Tort and Insurance Litigation, Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 2005
- Interview with Nadine Strossen, David Shankbone, Wikinews, October 30, 2007.
- "Account Suspended" (PDF). Nightingalealliance.org. Retrieved 2014-02-07.
- Goldstein, Jacob (March 5, 2009). "Washington's Physician-Assisted Suicide Law Takes Effect". The Wall Street Journal.
- See California Welfare and Institutions Code section 5150, for example.
- "Attempting suicide is not a crime under Maryland law. But an Eastern Shore man was convicted of it - Baltimore Sun".
- ANDREWS, ABBY (March 1, 2018). "Rare attempted suicide charge goes through Caroline court". MyEasternShoreMD.
- DUFOUR, CHRISTINE B. (March 7, 2018). "Attempted suicide likely not a crime". The Star Democrat.
- York (State), New (May 27, 1917). "McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated". West Publishing Company – via Google Books.
- Sanbar, Shafeek S. (2001). Legal Medicine. Mosby. ISBN 978-0-323-01060-3.
- Dodd, Christopher J. (2004-10-21). "S. 2634–108th Congress (2003-2004): Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act". www.congress.gov. Retrieved 2022-03-30.
- Gardner, Cory (2020-10-17). "Text - S. 2661–116th Congress (2019-2020): National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020". www.congress.gov. Retrieved 2022-03-30.
- Stewart, Chris (2021-05-13). "Text - H.R.2955 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): Suicide Prevention Act". www.congress.gov. Retrieved 2022-03-30.
- Administration (SAMHSA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (2022-07-15). "U.S. Transition to 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline Begins Saturday". HHS.gov. Retrieved 2022-09-26.
- "Bill Text - AB-2246 Pupil suicide prevention policies". leginfo.legislature.ca.gov. Retrieved 2022-03-30.
- "Bill Text - AB-2639 Pupil suicide prevention policies: reviews: updates". leginfo.legislature.ca.gov. Retrieved 2022-03-30.
- "Bill Text - AB-1767 Pupil suicide prevention policies". leginfo.legislature.ca.gov. Retrieved 2022-03-30.
- "Bill Text - AB-984 Personal income taxes: voluntary contributions: Suicide Prevention Voluntary Tax Contribution Fund". legislature.ca.gov. 2019. Retrieved 2022-03-30.
- "State and Legislative Commitment to Suicide Prevention" (PDF). Liveonutah.org. 2021. Retrieved 2022-03-30.
- "Zero Suicide Framework | DSAMH". dsamh.utah.gov. Retrieved 2022-03-30.
- Large Europe majorities for assisted suicide: survey
- Should suicide be legal? - Wikidebate at Wikiversity
- Abetment to Suicide