MANHASSET, NY (PIX11)—A 28-year old woman dying from terminal brain cancer was still locked in a legal battle Thursday with her religious, Korean immigrant parents—because Grace Lee wants her ventilator and feeding tube removed, so she can die in peace.
“Grace says repeatedly and clearly, ‘I want to die,’” her lawyer, David Smith, told PIX 11 Thursday—outside North Shore LIJ Medical Center in Manhasset. “I want the ventilator off,” Smith quoted Lee as saying.
But Lee’s father, Reverend Manho Lee, went to Nassau County Court last Thursday, seeking a restraining order against any action by the hospital, asking to be named “temporary guardian” for his daughter. An appellate court ruled against the parents last Friday, but they’re now appealing that decision—so Lee is stuck in limbo.
“I believe when someone sets the time and date to die, that is suicide and a sin,” Reverend Lee said through a translator at his lawyer’s office in Uniondale, Long Island, while his wife, Jin-ah, quietly sobbed at the conference table. “I believe my daughter is under depression and heavily medicated, but I believe she can win a miracle.” Rev. Lee is pastor at Antioch Missionary Church in Flushing, Queens.
Doctors at North Shore LIJ don’t agree a miracle is likely, and they’ve tried to make Grace Lee—a former financial manager with Bank of America—comfortable. Lee is now paralyzed from the neck down and can only breathe with the help of a ventilator; she gets her nourishment from a feeding tube. On Thursday, a spokesman for North Shore LIJ told PIX 11, “In all ‘end of life’ issues, the hospital abides by the patient’s wishes.”
Only a year ago, Lee was training for the New York City marathon when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Earlier this year, she underwent radiation and chemotherapy, but her condition worsened over the summer, and Lee moved into her parents’ home in Douglaston, Queens. She was taken to North Shore LIJ on September 3rd after suffering a seizure.
This past Tuesday, Dr. Dana Lustbader, Chief of Palliative Medicine at North Shore LIJ, testified in court that Grace Lee had resisted moving to a nursing home and was begging doctors not to keep her alive by extraordinary means. “I don’t want to go, take this tube out,” the doctor quoted Lee. “Why won’t you take the tube out, please, please, please,” the doctor continued, as she quoted more of what a tearful Lee said.
Lee’s family and fellow church members said she was a role model for many, even travelling to South Africa and Ethiopia at one point to spread Christianity.
The appellate division could move at any time to stop the attempts of Lee’s parents to block her wishes, and that would mean the tubes get removed. Grace Lee’s attorney said if the ventilator turned off, she could die within fifteen minutes. And David Smith told PIX 11 Grace Lee will likely prevail, because of legal precedents. “There’s been case after case after case. No one can interfere with a competent adult.”