Question: Is suicide still illegal in the Cayman Islands?
Answer: Yes it is actually!
Under the current law on suicide, if a person is found guilty of taking their own life, even though they are dead, they can face various punishments including forfeiting property to the Crown and being given a profane burial.
Although there are no reported cases of prosecution for those who committed suicide in the Cayman Islands, it still remains on the law books.
The same goes for attempted suicide.
Up until 58 years ago, it was illegal in England and Wales. Ironically despite being abolished since 1961 as a criminal offense, it remains in Cayman.
In July 1958 Lionel Henry Churchill was found lying next to his wife's decomposing body. He had tried, unsuccessfully, to take his own life. The 59-year-old was sent ot prison for six months after pleading guilty to attempted suicide.
When police found with a bullet wound in his forehead next to the partly-decomposed body of his wife it is hard to imagine the emotional turmoil he must have been in.
“Self-murder” became a crime under common law in England in the mid-13th Century, but long before that, it was condemned as a mortal sin in the eyes of the Church.
For a death to be declared a “Felo de se”, Latin for “felon of himself”, an old legal term for suicide, it had to be proved the person was sane.
If proven, they were denied a Christian burial – and instead carried to a crossroads in the dead of night and dumped in a pit, a wooden stake hammered through the body pinning it in place. There were no clergy or mourners, and no prayers were offered.
But punishment did not end with death. The deceased's family were stripped of their belongings and they were handed to the Crown. “The suicide of an adult male could reduce his survivors to pauperism,” Michael MacDonald and Terence Murphy wrote in Sleepless souls: Suicide in early modern England.
The Cayman Islands Law Reform Commission is now seeking to change this and has issued a new discussion paper on the decriminalization of suicide.
While it is recommending revisions to the Penal Code Law to decriminalize the act of suicide, it wants to retain attempted suicide and assisted suicide as offenses.
This paper examines the common law and the statutory provisions that save suicide as a criminal offense and makes recommendations for the decriminalization of suicide having regard to the view that treatment, rather than prosecution, is the appropriate and recommended response for a person struggling with a mental health crisis.
Stakeholders and members of the general public are invited to generally comment on the issues identified in the Discussion Paper and, in particular, to submit their views on the recommendations and Bills presented for discussion.
The Paper may be viewed on the following website: www.lrc.gov.ky or www.gov.ky or a copy may be collected from the Offices of the Commission.
Submissions should be forwarded no later than 21st October, 2019 to the Director of the Law Reform Commission, 4th Floor Government Administration Building, Portfolio of Legal Affairs, 133 Elgin Avenue, George Town, Grand Cayman, P.O. Box 136, Grand Cayman KY1-9000 either (a) electronically to [email protected], or (b) in writing, by post or hand-delivered.