London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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Greenwich 1961

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Greenwich Borough]

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Contrary to general belief suicide claims a formidable number
of victims. In England and Wales the number of suicides, approximately
5,000 annually, far exceeds deaths from tuberculosis and
is almost equivalent to the total of deaths from motor vehicle
accidents. In some countries which sustain high living standards
it has become a most important psychiatric problem.
Until recently, suicide remained a felony and attempted
suicide an indictable offence and a misdemeanour. It is interesting
to recall that until 1824, the original penalty for suicide was to
be buried at the crossroads with a stake through the heart. From
then onwards until the 1880's the penalty was ameliorated to one
of being buried in unconsecrated ground between 9 p.m. and midnight,
without ceremony. Confiscation of goods by the Crown
which constituted a further penalty was discontinued in 1870.
Society, presumably, has become mature enough to respond
constructively to suicide by providing the maximum of medical
care that these sick people require, for, with the introduction of
the Suicide Act, 1961, the law has been brought into line with
modern thought and attempted suicide is now considered to be a
medical and social problem and not one constituting an indictable