Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy collapsed Tuesday afternoon during an inaugural luncheon for President Barack Obama. A CNN report indicated that he suffered a seizure and was taken to a hospital by paramedics. Although the exact cause of the seizure is unknown this early on, people might be wondering what happens in the event a Senator is stricken by a sudden illness and is left unable to perform their duties.
This isn't the first time the issue has come up, as Senator Kennedy has had prior health ailments stemming from a malignant brain tumor. Also, about two years ago, North Dakota Senator Tim Johnson suffered what was first (wrongly) described as a stroke, but turned out to be bleeding in the brain caused by a congenital problem. At the time, many questions were raised regarding whether he would be able to continue his work as a Senator, in light of the 1-vote majority held by Democrats in the Senate. A Senate Historian cleared up any doubts by pointing to the Senate rules, under which a senator can retain their seat even if incapacitated, unable to vote, and not even able to show up to work. Further, the Senate does not have the power to forcefully remove a Senator unless they committed a crime.
This is in contrast to how the situation might be treated by someone's family in the event a loved one is stricken with a sudden, incapacitating illness. The law makes provisions for the use of conservatorships or guardianships, which allows for a family member to take over the incapacitated individual's affairs and finances in such situations.