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Woman chooses to stay on life support after court case

Grace Sung Eun Lee is paralyzed from the neck down and was in a legal battle with her parents over the right to remove her life support and die.
TimesLedger Newspapers

A quadriplegic woman who fought her Queens parents for the right to end her own life support finished another legal battle Tuesday, as her father dropped his bid to take over all decision making regarding her care.

Grace Sung Eun Lee, a 28-year-old Manhattan banker, became paralyzed late last month due to the growth of an inoperable brain tumor, and shortly afterward begged the medical team at North Shore University Hospital in Long Island to remove her breathing tube and allow her to die, according to her lawyer, David Smith.

Her parents disagreed, and quickly obtained a restraining order preventing the hospital from pulling the plug, Smith said. In addition, her father, a pastor at a Flushing church, sought to become her legal guardian and would have final say over medical decisions.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Rev. Man Ho Lee dropped that bid, conceding that a judge had already ruled her competent enough to decide her own fate.

“It’s over,” Smith said. “The father formally withdrew his guardianship proceeding, acknowledging there was nothing left for the court to decide.”

The legal battle between Lee, who wanted hospital staff to remove her breathing tube, and her devout family, who contended that doing so would be akin to suicide, shot to national prominence last week.

The restraining order initially prevented hospital staff from terminating life support, and Lee’s family used that time to bring up religious tenants with the bank manager, who was training for the New York marathon when she suddenly became unable to move or breathe on her own late last month.

“Her dad is her pastor, and standing over her day in and day out and telling her she’s going to rot in hell because she’s committing suicide,” Smith said. “It was horrible, but I use the past tense because I believe it is largely over.”

On Friday, a judge granted Lee the right to decide her own fate, but instead of opting to remove the ventilator and feeding tube that were keeping her alive, she chose to live, even appointing her parents custodians of her fate should she lose consciousness or become unable to make decisions on her own, according to Smith.

Tuesday’s hearing marked the final legal exchange between the family members, who are now focused on moving Lee out of the hospital and into a smaller-care facility.

According to Smith, as of Tuesday doctors had given Lee less than two weeks to live.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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Reader Feedback

Cleo from College Point says:
There's still hope for a medical breakthrough as long as she is still alive.
Oct. 10, 2012, 11:49 am

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