Molokai patients receive apology
State lawmakers have approved a resolution that offers an apology and thanks to people who were quarantined in Kalaupapa because they were diagnosed with leprosy.
The measure, adopted last month by both houses of the 2008 Legislature, acknowledged that thousands of island families were injured by the century-long isolation policy that government health officials deemed necessary to stop the spread of the disease.
The state action came as the U.S. Senate is considering a bill to approve a monument honoring the 8,000 people who were sent to the remote Molokai settlement now administered as a national historic park.
"They have been portrayed as victims or objects of pity. We see the people of Kalaupapa as heroes. They are truly among our most outstanding citizens," said Valerie Monson of Ka Ohana O Kalaupapa, a group of former patients and supporters organized to address issues concerning patients and to plan the future of Kalaupapa. The group proposed both the state and federal legislation.
Quarantine was begun by the kingdom of Hawaii in 1866 at the beginning of an outbreak of the disease and was ended in 1969, 20 years after sulfone medication was developed to curb the disease.
The official recognition is late in coming but "it's really great, it was really well done," said Kuulei Bell, one of 28 people remaining on the state registry of patients sent to the remote Molokai settlement.
Bell, 74, retired Kalaupapa postmistress, was diagnosed as a child and was sent to Kalaupapa in 1950. She and the other former patients are now free to come and go, but they still maintain homes there.
The resolution thanks the patients "for giving up freedoms and opportunities that the rest of society takes for granted, for rebuilding their lives with pride and dignity, for overcoming prejudice and discrimination."
It "apologizes for the past actions against, and treatment of, past and current residents of Kalaupapa."
Sen. J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Molokai-Lanai) said, "This is the first time that the Hawaii government has offered an apology to citizens for any reason."
He said the apology language was written after consultation with the state administration to ensure it doesn't provide grounds for a lawsuit.
The resolution says: "The Legislature does not confer any legal cause of action or any legal rights, remedies, relief, restitution or reparations" through the apology.
"They are not looking to sue, to get reparations," English said. "When isolation was abolished, the state did a generous thing. It will provide for them for the rest of their lives. The patients are provided medical care, housing, whatever they need. That was the silver lining at the end of isolation."
Bell said the resolution was inspired by former patient Paul Harada, who told friends and news reporters for years that he didn't blame the government for sending people away from their families but that "he just wanted them to apologize, to recognize what effect it had on all of us. Nobody ever spoke up and did that until now. It's too bad Paul couldn't be here."
Harada, 81, died Jan. 4 in Kalaupapa, where he had lived for 63 years.