Before lawmakers in Florida allow Terri Schiavo, a mentally disabled woman who is fed through a tube, to be starved and dehydrated to death, they ought to take a careful look at the 2000 Census.
It explains why the Constitution compels them to keep fighting for Terri's life.
In 2003, a Florida judge decided Terri's estranged husband (who has two children by another woman) could disconnect her tube and kill her by starvation and dehydration. Gov. Jeb Bush persuaded Florida's legislature to enact a law allowing him to restore Terri's tube. But the law was narrowly cast: It applied only to Terri, retroactively reversing the judge's decision to authorize her killing.
The Florida Supreme Court overturned Terri's Law, saying the governor and legislature did not have the authority to reverse a final judicial determination made under existing state laws. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Bush's appeal of the decision.
But the truth is Terri's Law did not go far enough. This time, Gov. Bush and the Florida legislature should protect not only Schiavo from starvation and dehydration, but also every other person in the state.
As the 2000 census illustrates, this is their constitutional duty.
Under the 14th Amendment, the Constitution requires the census to count "the whole number of persons in each State." Accordingly, the 2000 Census counted 88,828 "persons" living in nursing homes in Florida, 3,538 living in "hospitals/wards and hospices for the chronically ill" and 4,233 living in psychiatric hospitals or wards. Nationwide, it counted 1,720,500 persons living in nursing homes.
There was no degree of disability, incapacitation or illness that disqualified someone from being counted as a "person" under the Census Bureau's 14th Amendment mandate to count "the whole number of persons."
Under the 14th Amendment, Terri Schiavo and other disabled people are indisputably "persons."
Even judges who wrongly deny that unborn babies are persons cannot deny that the 41-year-old Shiavo is a person. Every member of the U.S. House of Representatives is elected from a district drawn a certain way because all disabled persons such as Schiavo were counted just like any other person under the plain meaning of 14th Amendment.