Govt to decriminalise suicide attempts

Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony

The Health Ministry is seeking to update and introduce new legislation for the sector, having identified that several documents are outdated and ineffective in this modern era.
Speaking on the issue was Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony on Tuesday, where he outlined that several pieces of legislation date back to the mid-1900s. Against this backdrop, he stressed the need for more modern laws to govern the medical field. Thus far, 21 pieces of legislation have been examined.
“We have identified 21 pieces of legislation that we would want to look at. Some of them would have been existing legislation that are quite dated, going back to 1934 and beyond. A lot of those things have no relevance in what we do currently. Nevertheless, they’re on the books and they’re quite outdated,” the Minister informed during the COVID-19 update.
One of the frameworks under review is the Antibiotic Act, where medications mentioned in the document are no longer in use. As such, the Ministry is looking to develop a Pharmaceutical Act, that will look at the medications that are currently used.
Another is the Public Health Ordinance, which dates back to 1945. For this, he shared, “Again, we want to replace those with a new Public Health Act. This is going to have similar things like the ordinance but upgraded to suit modern conditions.”
For amendments, it has been requested by the Guyana Medical Council that the Medical Practitioners Act be changed to allow for registration of specialisations. Under the current laws, a person who attempts suicide can be charged and liable to imprisonment. This is another aspect where amendments will be made, to offer guidance instead of jail time.
“I think the offence carries with it a penalty to be jailed and therefore, we believe in the modern thinking dealing with psychiatry and so forth, that you shouldn’t have these types of punitive measures. What you should do is to be able to offer that person help. Therefore, prison would not be the place to get that help. They would need to be referred to specialised services,” the health official contended.

Drafting new laws
The Attorney General’s Chambers is expected to play an instrumental role in the drafting of new laws, but Dr Anthony cautioned that it will take some time before these elements are completed. After the drafts are completed, there will be consultations from stakeholders after which it will be taken for approval by Cabinet. After that, it will be laid in the National Assembly where a committee can review the document. Eventually, it will be submitted to the President.
“We in the Ministry have identified areas where we need to strengthen legislation and it will take some time before all the elements are developed so we have identified areas of weaknesses. That then goes to the Attorney General’s Chambers and we will work with him to ensure that we can draft legislation… Doing legislation is not a very quick thing to do. It takes a lot of time for us to go through all the process so I want people to understand that.”
The issue of outdated legislative frameworks was evident when former President David Granger resurrected a 1945 Public Health Ordinance to fight COVID-19 last year.
Then People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament, Dr Vindhya Persaud had expounded the minimal changes and draconian nature of the ordinance towards the populace.
In fact, no changes were made to the ordinance, which, according to her, becomes evident when both the 1945 and present-day edicts are examined. Moreover, no direct measures for COVID-19 were found listed but rather those for other infectious diseases. (G12)