Court Supports Queens Woman's Right to Die

The Queens woman's religious parents filed suit to stop the hospital from removing their daughter from life support

By Roseanne Colletti and Marc Santia
|  Saturday, Oct 6, 2012  |  Updated 12:33 AM CDT
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A heart-wrenching saga over a woman's right to die -- and her parents' refusal to let her -- took a dramatic turn with a court decision Friday. Pei-Sze Cheng has new information.

NBC 4 New York

A heart-wrenching saga over a woman's right to die -- and her parents' refusal to let her -- took a dramatic turn with a court decision Friday. Pei-Sze Cheng has new information.

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The state's highest court has sided with a terminally ill Queens woman waging a legal battle with her parents over her decision to be taken off life support.

A brain-stem tumor has paralyzed 28-year-old Grace Sung Eun Lee from the neck down, and she depends on a tube to eat and one to breathe.

The court's decision Friday clears the way for Lee to chose to end her life, though no changes will be made in her treatment plan until a guardianship hearing next week.

Lee is in critical condition at North Shore in Manhasset. She can only mouth words and shake her head yes or no.

The doctors at Long Island's North Shore University Hospital said they would like to respect Lee's wishes and remove her feeding and breathing tubes. But Lee's devout parents -- religious Korean immigrants --  had argued that would qualify as suicide and would keep her from going to heaven.  They filed legal motions to stop the hospital from removing the tube.

"I believe if you set the day and time of your death, you're committing suicide and that is a sin," said Lee's father, the Rev. Manho Lee, through an interpreter on Thursday.

He softened his language Friday, saying in a news conference, "I'm not the one who decides whether Grace should live or die. I leave it up to God."

Lee's family is also arguing that she has recently expressed a change in her wish to die. They initially posted a video online showing her mouthing "yes" when her cousin asks if she's willing to sign over a medical proxy to her father, then mouthing "now" when asked when she wanted to be moved to a nursing home.

The video was purportedly taken on Oct. 3 but has since been pulled from YouTube.

Lee's cousin in the video, Paul Kim, said at the news conference Friday her parents were fighting to assume guardianship because her "most basic requests weren't being fulfilled" at the hospital.

"'I want to see sun, I want to go outside,'" he said. "I just gave her a voice. People had stopped listening."

Kim said he communicates with Lee by reading her lips and going through an alphabet chart.  

The minister and his wife, Jin-ah Lee, have claimed their always-obedient daughter, who headed a youth group at their church in Queens, would never willingly end her God-given life and that she had been unduly influenced by doctors.

Two appeals courts have now upheld Grace Lee's right to end her life, but no action will be taken until Tuesday, when the judge will decide whether to grant her father guardianship.

Until then, Lee's attorney said he will meet with her every day to see if her wishes have changed.

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