April 20, 2024

After winning the right to die, NY woman wants to live

After winning the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment, a young Korean woman in New York has decided that she wants to live.

After winning the right to refuse life-sustaining treatment, a woman in New York has decided that she wants to live. Grace Sung Eun Lee, 28, a financial manager working in Manhattan was so healthy that she was training for a marathon when she became paralysed. Doctors at diagnosed a fast-moving brain stem cancer which will probably kill her within weeks. She is currently at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset on Long Island.

Grace cannot breathe or eat on her own. She can only communicate by blinking or mouthing words. In this diminished state she indicated to hospital staff that she wanted her respirator to be removed to allow her to die.

However, her Korean migrant parents sued to stop this. Her father is a Christian pastor and said that Grace, who is a devout woman who ran a church youth group and had done missionary work abroad, was incompetent because of her medication. They contended that refusing treatment is suicide and is gravely sinful and that this could not possibly represent their daughter’s wishes.

Last Friday, the case ground to an end. The courts found that Grace was competent to request an end to her treatment and that her parents should not be granted guardianship. “Whatever little power this poor lady has left, she feels empowered that the court has clearly now recognized that this is up to her and only up to her,” said her court-appointed lawyer.

And then, in a surprising reversal, Grace decided that she did not want to die and was willing to remain on a ventilator. “When I asked her if she’s doing this to make peace with her parents, she told me she was doing it to make peace with her parents and to make peace with God,” said the lawyer.

Dr J. Randall Curtis, director of a palliative care centre at the University of Washington, told the New York Times that this unusually acrimonious case highlighted different approaches to informed consent.

“It’s not terribly unusual in our increasingly multicultural society to have this clash, where Western-trained clinicians really view the patient as the sole determinant of all decision-making and the family sees it different.”

Michael Cook
Creative commons
end of life
informed consent
medical futility