Tuesday, March 30, 1999

UH researcher’s
disturbing complaints

Bullet The issue: The director of the biotechnology research center at the University of Hawaii resigned and complained about his treatment.
Bullet Our view: The university has some explaining to do.

THE resignation of Oskar Zaborsky as director of the Marine Bioproducts Engineering Center (MarBEC) is a major loss to the University of Hawaii in its bid to achieve excellence. The university and President Kenneth Mortimer have some explaining to do. The Legislature should demand answers.

Zaborsky, a former programmer for the National Science Foundation, joined UH in January 1996 to attempt to create a "world-class national center of excellence in marine biotechnology."

Last November, the National Science Foundation approved a five-year grant for the project. A month later, the university said Zaborsky was leaving for personal reasons. In a recent interview with the Star-Bulletin's Helen Altonn, Zaborsky expressed frustration with his treatment by the university. He said he spent half his time fighting for office and laboratory space.

"Three years I waited for a spot on campus," he said. "Promises were made. Nothing happened."

One administrator suggested that Zaborsky reject a $500,000 Army contract because no laboratory space was available on campus, he said.

Zaborsky's group of 10 students and researchers ended up in a trailer near the university's Look Laboratory at Kewalo Basin. When he moved in, he found abandoned barrels of flammable methyl ethyl ketone. He noted the irony of "doing research on clean energy at a contaminated waste site." Even so, he was required to pay a monthly user fee of $1,416.

Zaborsky also says he is concerned that the university's commitments to the National Science Foundation aren't being honored. These include funding five new MarBEC faculty members, providing $3.3 million the first year and $1.5 million for improvements to the Pacific Ocean and Science Technology building.

The Army is rescinding $150,000 in research funding for the center and some of the scientists Zaborsky recruited are leaving.

Alex Malahoff, director of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory and an associate director of the bioengineering center, has replaced Zaborsky and the program is continuing despite his departure. But how well it can operate under current conditions isn't clear.

If Zab-orsky's statements are correct, he has been shabbily treated by the UH administration. Of course, the university is operating under severe fiscal constraints, but does that justify the way Zaborsky says he was treated?

The answers could have serious implications for future research projects. The university is competing with institutions across the nation for these projects. If it fails to meet its commitments to researchers, that fact will soon become known.


Kevorkian’s guilt

Bullet The issue: Physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted death for the terminally ill and those suffering intractable pain
Bullet Our view: Kevorkian's conduct should not be allowed to discredit the case for compassionate treatment.

JACK Kevorkian was accustomed to being acquitted by juries on charges stemming from his role in assisted suicides. He was convicted of second-degree murder for taking the more assertive step of injecting a fatal dose of drugs to a 52-year-old man afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease. By any interpretation of Michigan's law, that is a crime and is likely to remain so, although assisted-suicide statutes may be enacted.

Kevorkian relied in previous trials on evidence of patients' pain and suffering prior to his assistance in their suicides. His clients used his homemade devices to control the use of carbon monoxide or intravenous chemicals.

Those assisted-suicide trials resulted in three acquittals and one mistrial. However, the retired pathologist was not allowed to use that defense against the murder charge stemming from the Sept. 17 death of Thomas Youk, videotaped and shown later on "60 Minutes."

Kevorkian argued to the jury that "there are certain acts that by sheer common sense are not crimes." He essentially asked the panel to nullify the murder law's application to cases of euthanasia, or mercy killing. The trial judge, considering the argument inappropriate, disallowed supportive testimony from Youk's relatives.

That issue is one for state legislatures, not juries, to consider. However, most legislatures are reluctant to tackle even the relatively modest proposal of legalizing assisted suicide. Both houses of the Hawaii Legislature have shelved a proposal by a blue-ribbon gubernatorial commission that physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted death be legalized, with safeguards. Only Oregon has passed such a law, although efforts in favor of legislation are continuing in other states.

Kevorkian seems to have sought martyrdom and can be expected to follow through with his threat of going on a hunger strike when imprisoned if his appeal is denied.

His extreme position and unorthodox behavior should not be used to discredit proposals to allow physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted death under strictly controlled conditions.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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