Wednesday, October 15, 1997

Council should stand
firm on Natatorium

THE City Council and Mayor Harris should stand firm in their laudable decision to restore the Waikiki Natatorium as a functioning memorial to Hawaii's World War I dead in the face of a campaign to discredit the project.

The main issue presented by opponents of restoration is water quality in the swimming pool, based on the fact that conditions were sometimes poor in the pool in past decades before it was closed. The design for the restored pool features vastly improved water circulation through openings at both ends that will produce up to 10 changes of water a day and solve the problem.

The Friends of the Natatorium, a nonprofit organization that has campaigned for restoration for 10 years, is confident that water quality will be as good as that of the surrounding ocean. The system was designed by the firm of Leo A. Daly, planner of the lagoons at Ko Olina, which won the state's highest engineering excellence award.

But water quality is a smokescreen for the opponents' real concern, which is that a restored Natatorium would bring more people -- especially tourists, heaven forbid! -- to an area they would like to reserve for themselves. That is why they have raised spurious concerns of commercialization.

It is true that the plan is for the Natatorium's operation to be financed through fees, but exactly what those fees would be has yet to be decided. The Friends, which would have to apply to the city for the right to operate the facility, has considered raising money through snack and gift shops, admission fees to a proposed branch of the Swimming Hall of Fame and fees for some uses of the pool by organizations. However, the Friends insists it is opposed to commercializing the Natatorium -- and it is in our view much more credible than its opponents.

What is at stake in this battle is the fate of one of Hawaii's grandest memorials, which through shameful neglect has been allowed to crumble into ruin. The shame is compounded by the fact that the Natatorium is located on the outskirts of Waikiki, within easy viewing by millions of visitors. How much better it would be to have a beautifully restored facility for residents and visitors alike.

Restoration of the Natatorium is entirely feasible and appropriate in view of its place as a nationally recognized historic structure. The only alternative, demolition, would require federal permission and would cost almost as many millions as restoration, a fact that opponents of restoration conveniently forget to mention. We doubt the city or state would be willing to provide funding for demolition when slightly more would pay for restoration.

It is to the credit of the mayor and the Council that they provided funding for the restoration. Now they must follow through.

Alana Dung's battle

HAWAII mourns Alana Dung, the little girl who captured our hearts with her courageous fight against leukemia. Alana's need for a bone marrow transplant inspired a huge outpouring of support here in the form of registrations for marrow donors -- more than 30,000 people.

Eventually a donor was found in Taiwan and the transplant was made in Seattle in July 1996. The procedure appeared to be successful. Alana regained her strength and vitality. But the leukemia came back, and a second transplant was ruled out. She died yesterday at her home in Nuuanu. She was only 3.

Alana's struggle made many aware for the first time of the need for bone marrow transplants and the importance of registering as potential donors. Because so many people responded to her parents' call for donors for Alana, others needing bone marrow transplants will benefit. Chris Pablo of Honolulu, who received a transplant from an overseas donor last November, said Alana gave hope to others that they might find a donor as well. For Alana the hope ran out yesterday.

Dr.-assisted suicide

PHYSICIAN-assisted suicide is not a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June, but the decision came short of determining that it violates any fundamental rights. The high court yesterday turned away an opportunity to expand on its position. While the issue remains open, Hawaii should work to craft responsible guidelines for physician-assisted suicide.

The court's June decision upheld laws in New York and Washington that make it a felony to assist another person in commiting suicide. A measure that allows doctors to help mentally competent but terminally ill patients end their lives was approved by Oregon voters in 1994 but has not taken effect because of court challenges. One challenge, brought by two doctors and a patient dying from muscular dystrophy, was rejected by the Supreme Court yesterday because they lacked legal standing to sue.

The high court can expect more challenges of the Oregon law if it remains on the books. Oregon voters will vote by mail in the next three weeks on whether to repeal the law, which could take effect before the ballots on reconsideration are counted. However, court orders are likely to block implementation until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutional issues.

Hawaii forbids assisted suicide but in a clumsy manner that probably renders the law unenforceable. It provides that a person who "intentionally causes another person to commit suicide" is guilty of manslaughter, but how a person can "cause" another person's voluntary act is puzzling to say the least.

Governor Cayetano last year appointed a blue-ribbon panel to consider the diverse views on the issue and recommend a law that would be "humane and compassionate to the old and terminally ill." Nothing the Supreme Court has done since then should change the panel's mission.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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