- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2005

Terri Schiavo, a mentally disabled woman fed through a tube, has been set up by state courts to be starved and dehydrated to death. Florida lawmakers should carefully examine the 2000 Census to see why the U.S. Constitution has required them to keep fighting for her 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 had no authority to reverse a final judicial determination under existing state laws. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Mr. Bush’s appeal.

But the truth is Terri’s Law did not go far enough. Gov. Bush and the Florida legislature should act to protect not just one person from starvation and dehydration but 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 counting someone as a “person” under the Census Bureau’s 14th Amendment mandate to count “the whole number of persons.” The 14th Amendment says Terri Schiavo and other disabled people are indisputably “persons.”

Even judges who wrongly deny unborn babies are persons cannot deny the personhood of the 41-year-old Mrs. Schiavo. Every member of the U.S. House of Representatives is elected from a district drawn a certain way because all disabled persons such as Mrs. Schiavo were counted just like any other person under 14th Amendment’s plain meaning.

This presents what should be an insurmountable constitutional obstacle for those who want state governments — either through their courts or legislatures — to legalize killing innocent persons such as Mrs. Schiavo, no matter the means. The 14th Amendment that made Terri a “person” for census purposes and apportioning Congress says, “No State shall… deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The rights of the Terri Schiavos are equal to every other person in Florida to state protection from homicidal acts. Florida may no more legalize killing mentally disabled persons than it can legalize killing persons with brown hair.

America has seen antecedents to this type of moral crisis. There is an ineradicable force in the fallen nature of man that will always drive some to trample the God-given rights of others. We have a Constitution to stop them. That is especially the reason for the 14th Amendment.

When the Constitution was originally ratified, it did not command the census to count all persons. It commanded that it count “the whole Number of free Persons” and only “three fifths of all other Persons.”

The “other persons,” of course, were African-American slaves. Many Southerners preferred counting slaves as persons in apportioning their state’s congressional representation, but not for apportioning federal taxes among the states by population. Many Northerners, who rightly viewed slavery as a gross violation of human rights, nonetheless wanted slaves counted as persons for apportioning taxes but not congressional seats. Northerners and Southerners compromised and wrote language that pretended slaves were not full persons.

This failure to recognize and protect the full humanity of all persons was the original sin of the Republic. It led to years of turmoil, a bloody Civil War and, finally, a 13th Amendment to abolish slavery and a 14th Amendment to ensure all states give all persons equal protection of the law — and that all persons are counted in the census.

All along, the Declaration of Independence had stated the truth: God endows all men with certain inalienable rights, including life and liberty.

Florida lawmakers must protect the Terri Schiavos and all other persons from death by starvation and dehydration. It is their constitutional duty.

Terence P. Jeffrey is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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