Senate Approves Bill to Strike ‘Lunatic’ from Federal Law

Senate Approves Bill to Strike ‘Lunatic’ from Federal Law

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By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator

It seems that there’s at least one topic that everyone in the Senate can agree on: the removal of the word “lunatic” from federal law. On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously agreed to strike the word from all pieces of federal legislation—a major victory for the mental health community.

“Federal law should reflect the 21st century understanding of mental illness and disease,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) when introducing the 21st Century Language Act with Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) in late April. “The continued use of this pejorative term has no place in the U.S. Code.”

Although the elimination of this word is only a small step in eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness, the Mental Health Liaison Group, a coalition of 38 groups, including NAMI, believe that the legislation will help prevent negative stereotypes from being perpetuated.

“Deleting these terms from usage in the U.S. code is a simple means of demonstrating respect for individuals living with mental health conditions and will have no effect on the underlying federal laws,” they wrote in a letter of support.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, which must also pass it before it can go to the President to be signed into law.

The word “lunatic” appears in the U.S. Code in Title 1, Chapter 1, which covers rules of construction. Language in the chapter states that when applying the law “the words ‘insane’ and ‘insane person’ and ‘lunatic’ shall include every idiot, lunatic, insane person, and person non compos mentis.”

According to the bill, the language also appears in banking laws associated with the authority to take receivership of estates.