Sanctimony threatens
death with dignity bill

The issue: One senator is
blocking a bill that would allow
doctor-assisted suicide in Hawaii.

STATE Sen. David Matsuura is wonderfully candid in explaining that his refusal to bring a bill allowing physician-assisted death before his committee is based on his personal ignorance. The bill, which evolved from a proposal made by a gubernatorial panel four years ago, has been approved by the House.

"I haven't even looked at the measure or studied this measure yet," says Matsuura, chairman of the Senate Health Committee. "I can't figure out what assisted suicide is." Matsuura should at least temporarily turn over control of his committee to someone willing to give careful and balanced thought to the issue.

Governor Cayetano's Blue Ribbon Panel on Living with Dignity recommended in 1998 that physician-assisted death be permitted in Hawaii when requested by a mentally alert person and approved by two physicians, a psychologist and a social worker. The House has approved a significantly scaled-back measure that would limit assisted death to terminally ill patients who have been diagnosed to die within six months.

The bill is similar to Oregon's 1997 Death With Dignity Act, the only such law in the country. It has been used by at least 91 patients, most of them suffering from cancer, to relieve their suffering during the final stages of life. Like the Oregon law, the Hawaii measure requires a 15-day waiting period and other safeguards to ensure that patients are mentally competent and have time to reconsider.

Matsuura points out that Attorney General John Ashcroft issued an order in November unleashing federal drug agents to ride herd on Oregon doctors, threatening to strip them of their medical licenses and possibly send them to prison if they made use of the state law. The senator does not mention that a federal judge has blocked the order, ruling that Ashcroft overstepped his authority.

In issuing his failed order, Ashcroft cited the Controlled Substances Act, which says a physician may prescribe a regulated drug only for a "legitimate medical purpose." That law was aimed at combatting drug abuse, not at second-guessing doctors trying to relieve the pain of terminally ill patients.

Governor Cayetano has suggested that Matsuura is reacting to pressure from religious groups and possibly acting upon his own religious beliefs. Cayetano recalled that former Gov. John Burns, a devout Catholic, allowed an abortion bill to become law despite his faith-based objections.

We defended Matsuura's freedom of expression three years ago when he was accused of violating the separation of church and state by displaying a Christian symbol on the outside of his office door. However, the abuse of his committee chairmanship to block legislation that conflicts with his religious beliefs is sanctimonious behavior that should have no place in the Legislature.



Charter school
teachers need parity

The issue: An agreement
will give charter school teachers
equity in benefits.

THE agreement that gives teachers at charter schools the same rights as those at public schools would benefit the educators and the schools as well as their students. The state Board of Education should accept the plan. Without the agreement, charter schools would be at a disadvantage in hiring and retaining qualified instructors, threatening their survival and eliminating educational choices for Hawaii's children.

The plan worked out by the Department of Education and the teachers' union, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, puts the 230 or so teachers at charter schools on equal footing with those at traditional schools. They would be able to accrue seniority and attain tenure as do teachers at public facilities.

The agreement also assures that charter school students would have qualified teachers. Educators will be required to be licensed and evaluated under the same standards as public school teachers and be supervised by a licensed administrator.

Many charter school teachers had transferred from public school jobs, but a new school board policy does not allow them to count their years at charter schools toward their benefits should they choose to return. As a result, charter schools stood to lose a number of their teachers who were willing to work in a new atmosphere but unwilling to give up their benefits. At a hearing at the state Legislature earlier this month, Kaohu Martins, administrator of a Hilo facility, said the policy "can effectively shut down" charter schools "because they won't have certified teachers."

The 22 charter schools in Hawaii are publicly funded, but are free of many rules governing conventional public schools so as to foster innovation. They remain accountable for student performance. In 1999, the Legislature approved a plan for up to 25 charter schools. Although still in initial stages of development, those schools show promise for success. Children in charter schools are often those who may not do well in traditional systems and the schools offer parents an option.

The board should be willing to explore other paths toward quality education. If the DOE and the teachers' union view the agreement as a step forward, so should the board.



Posting law cannot
consider the source

The issue: The City Council
wants to revise a law that bans
fliers and signs from utility poles.

TO ease enforcement of a law that prohibits posting of fliers and signs on utility and light poles, the City Council wants to revise it to hold liable the people and businesses whose message those papers carry. The effort is not aimed at those who want to direct guests to a party, Council members say, but the city could run into equal-justice problems.

Present law makes it illegal to post signs, which authorities say requires them to catch someone in the act of putting them up. The revision would instead allow citation of the businesses or persons whose events are advertised with fines of up to $500. The plan would clear the unsightly placards and paper that have become increasingly common. For utility companies, the mass of nails, staples and tacks stuck into the poles has become a safety issue.

The revision doesn't allow discretionary enforcement. To avoid legal entanglements, the Council may need to clarify its intentions.

Otherwise, police may have to bust grandma and grandpa for putting up balloons and a paper heart for a baby luau.


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

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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