Friday, July 27, 2001

This bank deserves
the public’s deposits

The issue: The work of the
Hawaii Cord Blood Bank gives
patients a second chance.

Amid the bitter ethical debates about research with embryonic stems cells comes the heartening news that another source of stem cells is already saving lives in Hawaii. These stem cells come from umbilical cord blood and because neither mothers nor babies are harmed in the process, few ethical roadblocks stand in the way.

The state is fortunate to have the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank, an agency that has grown into a national model. It deserves the public's full support.

The bank was founded in 1998 by Dr. Randal Wada, who performed the first cord-blood transplant at UCLA Medical Center in 1996, saving the life of a boy with leukemia. It works in collaboration with Blood Bank of Hawaii and the Puget Sound Blood Center in Seattle.

Stem cells produced from the blood of an umbilical cord can be used like bone marrow to treat patients with cancer and other diseases. The advantage is that it can be stored and gotten quickly to a patient in need. Bone marrow donations are not collected until a patient is matched and set for a transplant. That matching can take 6 to 8 weeks, time a patient can ill afford, said Wada. Cord- blood stem-cell transplants are also less expensive -- $15,000 per unit compared to as much as $30,000 for marrow.

Umbilical-cord donations are similar to blood donations. Doctors take a blood sample after birth and the painless procedure doesn't interfere with the baby's delivery. Because the cord would be discarded, it makes sense to donate it to the bank.

Finding matching donors for blood or marrow in Hawaii is difficult because of its large population of mixed races, Wada said. The more donations, the more likely Hawaii's ailing will survive leukemia and other diseases. He recalled telling a mother that a donor could not be found to help her daughter. "I am determined," he said, "to put an end to these types of conversations."

Wada said researchers are finding that cord-blood stem cells may have other medical applications, such as treatment for diabetes and nerve damage. "There's really big potential there without the ethical problems," he said.

The bank operates with two part-time nurse-coordinators; Wada isn't paid. Its services are free and it relies on contributions to pay the average $750 cost to process each cord-blood unit.

For an agency with such valuable services, donations -- in cash and cords -- are in order.

Penalties for
cockfighting need to
be strengthened

The issue: The City Council is
considering a proposal that would
raise the fines for possession or
sale of cockfighting spurs.

ANY crackdown by law-enforcement agencies on cockfighting is useless in the absence of adequate penalties to discourage this criminal activity. City Councilman John Henry Felix has introduced legislation that could improve deterrence by raising potential fines for possession or sale of the sharp metal spurs known as gaffs used in the blood sport. However, judges would have to act accordingly for it to make any difference, and that is unlikely.

Prosecutors apply the city ordinance only in cases limited to gaff possession. The state law against cruelty to animals is used in prosecuting actual involvement in cockfighting because it carries a potentially stiffer penalty -- a fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment for up to one year. Judges commonly impose fines for such offenses, but they need to be greater than those in the past to make any difference. Prison time for such an offense is unheard of.

The present ordinance against engaging in cockfighting also prohibits possession or sale of gaffs or slashers. Violation is punishable by a fine of up to $100 or a jail term of up to three months, or both. Naturally, the fine is commonly imposed and is easily affordable -- a pittance compared with the stakes often involved in gambling associated with the barbaric activity.

Felix, who represents Hawaii Kai, Waimanalo and parts of Kailua, has introduced a proposal to amend the ordinance to provide for fines up to $500 while reducing the jail time to a maximum of 30 days. That would make sense if judges were to assess the larger fines; the dollar amount could be significant and jailing is irrelevant because it is never imposed.

The problem with both the state law against cockfighting and the city ordinance covering a ban on gaffs may not be the size of the maximum fine but the lack of a minimum. City Deputy Prosecutor Lori Nishimura says the typical fine against a person convicted of actual involvement in cockfighting for the first time is only $100, and no one can recall a fine against a repeat offender of more than $250. That fine amounts to a modest cockfighting license fee.

Wrist-slapping judges may agree with defenders of cockfighting who say it has cultural roots, but those extend to many parts of the world where it has been declared illegal because of its cruelty. Cockfighting is illegal in most countries and in 47 states, including Hawaii. Judges who fail to appreciate the seriousness of this offense invite legislation creating mandatory minimum sentences.

In the past three months, police have conducted two raids on cockfighting exhibitions in Waipahu, making no arrests but warning the participants about the illegality of cockfighting. Improvements in the city ordinance, combined with arrests and enforce- ment of state law, are needed to further discourage cockfighting.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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