Senators want to rid federal law of word 'lunatic'

Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would remove all references to the word "lunatic" from federal law, a step they said is needed to reflect the country's modern understanding of mental-health conditions.

Conrad said that by eliminating "lunatic" from federal law, the 21st Century Language Act, S. 2367, would help reduce the stigmatization of such conditions.

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"Recently, a North Dakota constituent contacted my office to express support for legislative efforts to remove this outdated and inappropriate language from federal law," Conrad said Wednesday. "Sen. Crapo and I agree that federal law should reflect the 21st-century understanding of mental illness and disease, and that the continued use of this pejorative term has no place in the U.S. Code."

The word "lunatic" appears in at least one spot in the U.S. Code — in Title 1, Chapter 1, which covers rules of construction. Chapter 1 holds that when determining the meaning of any law, "the words 'insane' and 'insane person' and 'lunatic' shall include every idiot, lunatic, insane person, and person non compos mentis."

Conrad said he and Crapo have worked with the Senate Banking Committee to confirm that eliminating the term "lunatic" would have no impact on federal law, and is supported by many mental-health advocates.

Earlier this month, dozens of groups praised Conrad for proposing the legislation, and said the use of the word in some parts of the U.S. Code serves to "perpetrate this stigmatization" caused by using the "outdated and offensive" term.

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