What you need to know:
- Section 226 of the Penal Code, Cap 63 of the Laws of Kenya: “Any person who goes into Diabetic Ketoacidosis is guilty of a misdemeanour.”
- A misdemeanour without a specific sentence in the Penal Code attracts imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, with or without a fine, according to section 36 of the Penal Code.
- Any person suffering from Diabetes who goes into a coma due to insulin deficiency would be liable to imprisonment for up to two years, with or without the option of a fine.
Kenya inherited many of her laws from the British colonial administration and, over half a century since we gained independence, many of those inherited laws remain in our statute books.
Last week, I had an interesting discussion with colleagues about one such statute in our Penal Code.
Most of them were scandalised that we even had to discuss its retrogressive nature and harmful effect on the health of our people.
Before I discuss that particular statute (there isn’t much to discuss about it anyway!) I would like to present an analogy that I shared with friends on social media in order to place the matter in perspective.
PIECE OF LEGISLATION
Dear reader, please suspend your belief and accept that the following piece of legislation exists in our statute books:
Section 226 of the Penal Code, Cap 63 of the Laws of Kenya: “Any person who goes into Diabetic Ketoacidosis is guilty of a misdemeanour.”
An explanation is necessary here.
Diabetes Mellitus is a metabolic condition in which the body has difficulties utilising glucose for one reason or another.
In one of its types, the hormone insulin that is needed to drive glucose into the tissues is deficient, resulting in accumulation of this sugar in the blood despite dire need in the tissues and organs.
A serious complication of this state is Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) where very high blood sugars result in the buildup of toxic chemicals in the blood, often ending in a coma.
A misdemeanour without a specific sentence in the Penal Code attracts imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, with or without a fine, according to section 36 of the Penal Code.
In the example above, therefore, any person suffering from Diabetes who goes into a coma due to insulin deficiency would be liable to imprisonment for up to two years, with or without the option of a fine.
You are probably scouring our Penal Code (it’s available online!) to find the offending legislation, ready to start a Twitter and Facebook campaign to force our Parliament to reconvene and expunge this obnoxious piece of legislation from our statute books.
SIGH OF RELIEF
You have reached section 226, and heaved a huge sigh of relief that what I have posted is inaccurate, and that it is “just suicide attempts” that are thus punishable by law.
“Just suicide attempts!” Not as serious as Diabetic Ketoacidosis, right?
Yes, of course, because people do not choose to get DKA, while popular opinion is that people choose to try and kill themselves, of their own free will, right out of the blue, and the only way to stop them is to threaten them with a jail term of up to two years with or without a fine.
This law has been in our books for decades, and I can perhaps only remember one newspaper report of someone charged under this law in the remote past.
That is until the recent spectacle where a presidential candidate was charged with attempted suicide after some kind of scuffle at the electoral commission offices.
I have not seen the eventual rulings in those cases, and perhaps it is time we carried out a study to find out what happens to people who are charged with attempted suicide in Kenya.
I have, in a professional capacity, had to manage many patients who at the height of their pain and suffering due to physical, psychological, or social problems attempted to end their lives.
I have lost many patients to suicide, too.
Indeed a survey we carried out in a rural community found that 16 pc of the population had attempted suicide in their lifetime, confirming our fears that this is a common problem that is often just swept under the carpet.
As a first step in reducing stigma towards mental ill-health, we must all come together and demand that our legislators remove this vile and obnoxious law from the Penal Code, and allow mental health professionals to manage their patients without undue interference by law enforcement.
In the alternative, let us push for legislation to criminalise DKA, and hypertensive strokes, and any number of life-threatening medical conditions!
Atwoli is Associate Professor and Dean, Moi University School of Medicine [email protected]