Attempt to commit suicide-Section 309

Section 309. Attempt to commit suicide.—Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both.

The person who attempts to commit suicide is guilty of the offence under section 309. Section 306 lays down punishment for the person who abets the commission of suicide. 

Relevant cases
A village woman of twenty years old was ill treated by her husband. There was a quarrel between the two and the husband threatened he would beat her. Later that night, she taking her six months old baby in her arms, slipped away from the house. After she had gone some distance she heard somebody coming up behind her and when she turned, she saw her husband and in a panic, she jumped down a well with the baby in her arms. The baby died but the woman recovered. She was charged for attempt to commit suicide. It was held that she should not be convicted under this section of an attempt to commit suicide, for the word “attempt” connotes some conscious endeavor to accomplish the act, and the accused was not thinking at all of taking her own life.[1]
In Narendra v State of Rajasthan[2]witness clearly stated that deceased was shouting, pleading with the accused to not kill her, when accused have sword blows to her. There was no evidence to establish that she volunteered herself for death under exception 5 of Section 300 IPC. Therefore convincing of the appellant under section 302 IPC was held to be proper. 
Voluntary termination of life 
A person cannot claim his own life by staring that he had led a successful life and the mission of his life was fulfilled. It would amount to suicide as it would attract the provisions of section 306 and section 309. There is no distinction between suicide as ordinarily understood and the right to voluntarily end your own life. 
Fast unto death 
If a person openly declares that he will fast to death and then proceeds to refuse all kinds of nourishment until the stage when there is imminent danger of death, he can be held guilty under this section but when the evidence falls short of their, it cannot be said to be sufficient to bring him under this section. 
In Ramamoorthy v State of Tamil Nadu[3] a person commenced fast unto death for certain demands but even before his demands were conceded, he chose to get himself medically treated without protest, it was held that there was no mens rea to end his own life and hence it cannot be said that he attempted to commit suicide. 
In India active euthanasia is illegal and a crime under section 302 or at least under section 304 IPC. Physician assisted suicide is a crime under section 306 IPC. In Gian Kumar v State of Punjab[4], the Constitution Bench held that both euthanasia and assisted suicide are not lawful in India. This judgment overruled the two Judge Bench decision of the Supreme Court in P. Rathinam v Union of India[5]. The court held that the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution does not include right to die. But in Aruna Ramachandra v Union of India[6], the Supreme Court held that passive euthanasia can be allowed under exceptional circumstances under the strict monitoring of the Court. The difference between active and passive euthanasia is that in active euthanasia something is done to end the patient’s life while in passive euthanasia, something is not done that would have preserved the patient’s life. It is usually defined as withdrawing medical treatment with a deliberate intention of causing the patient’s death.

Constitutional validity section 309

In P. Rathinam v Union of India[7], the constitutional validity of section 309 was challenged and the Supreme Court observed that the provision punishing attempt to commit suicide is cruel and irrational and is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution and it deserves to be effaced from the statute book to humanalise penal laws. It added that the act of attempted suicide has no baneful effect on society and it is also not against religion, morality or public policy, besides suicide or attempt to commit it causes no harm to others.

This decision was however subsequently reversed and it has been held again that the provision for penalizing attempt to commit suicide and abetment of suicide is not unconstitutional. Accused were acquitted by the trial courts in two cases following the case of Rathinam.

The section should be deleted by the Parliament as it has become anachronistic. A person attempts suicide in a depression, and hence he needs help, rather than punishment. Supreme Court therefore in Aruna Ramachandra v Union of India[8], recommended to Parliament to consider the feasibility of deleting section 309 from the IPC.

[1] Dhirajia, (1940) All 647.

[2] 2012 Cr LJ 723 (Raj)

[3] 1992 Cr LJ 2074 (Mad)

[4] 1996 (2) SCC 648.

[5]AIR 1994 SC 1844 : 1994 (3) SCC 394.

[6] (2011) 4 SCC 454 : AIR 2011 SC 1290

[7] AIR 1994 SC 1844 : 1994 (3) SCC 394.

[8] (2011) 4 SCC 454 : AIR 2011 SC 1290

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