'I want to die': Paralysed bank manager with terminal brain cancer pleads with doctors – but her Christian parents refuse to remove her breathing tubesGrace Sung Eun Lee, 28, is paralysed from neck down after brain tumour led to seizure
Currently on breathing tubes and told her parents that she wants to dieHer parents, originally from South Korea, are deeply religious and think that allowing her to die is suicide, a sin
19:15 GMT, 4 October 2012
A terminally ill bank manager with brain cancer has made her last wishes clear – she wants to die.
Grace Sung Eun Lee even managed to vocalise her wishes, telling her parents and the doctors tending to her: ‘I want to die.’
But because the 28-year-old’s parents are deeply religious and belong to a Korean Christian church in Queens, they believe that allowing her daughter to choose death over life is a sin.
The rift in beliefs has led to an agonising legal battle for the family.
Bitter battle: Grace Sung Eun Lee, centre, is on breathing tubes following a seizure from a brain tumour, but her parents will not allow her to be removed from the tubes
Happier times: Grace, centre, pictured with her parents Manho Lee, left, and Jin-ah Lee, right; her father is a pastor at a Flushing, Queens church
Speaking with the New York Daily News, Ms Lee’s mother, Jin-ah Lee, said: ‘Despite all this confusion, (my daughter) wants to go to heaven. I keep telling her she can get better.’
Her daughter is currently at Long Island North Shore Hospital, hooked up to breathing tubes that are keeping her alive. She is paralysed from the neck down due to the tumour on her brain stem.
Ms Lee’s father is Antioch Missionary Church reverend Manho Lee, and practices out of his church in the Flushing neighbourhood of Queens. His congregation has flocked behind him to pray for Ms Lee and tell her of God's plans for her life.
The sin of suicide, they said, would condemn their daughter's soul to hell.
The difference in beliefs has led to an emergency end-of-life hearing at the hospital, with the two sides bitterly re-affirming their respective stances.
Smiling: Ms Lee had worked as a manager at Bank of America and lived in Manhattan
Meeting: On October 1, there was a press conference at North Shore Hospital to inform the media of Grace's condition
Speaking on behalf of Ms Lee, Dr Dana Lustbader testified that the patient ‘consistently asks that her breathing tube be removed.’
However, Rev Lee and his wife argued that their daughter is heavily medicated, and is not lucid enough to make the life-or-death decision.
BIOETHICS: A CASE OF LIFE AND DEATH
End-of-life issues are ones that are at once vastly personal and highly polarised. According to the American College of Physicians, the important thing is to do what the person said they wanted, rather than what the person forced to make a decision.
In cases where the patient cannot speak for themselves and there are no specific end-of-life wishes, the ACP suggests: ‘You can make a decision if you can determine what the person probably would have chosen,’ known as a ‘substituted judgment.’
Doctors said that her medications, including morphine and an anti-anxiety medication, are not strong enough to cloud her judgment.
Ms Lee’s troubles began last year. Before her illness, she worked as a manager for Bank of America, living and working in Manhattan.
She was also training for the famous New York City marathon.
She had emigrated with her parents from Seoul, South Korea, the Daily News reported. But Ms Lee was devastated when she was diagnosed with a tumour in her brain stem.
Though she received chemotherapy and radiation, the treatments did not successfully target the tumour, and last month, she had a seizure that eventually left her paralysed.
Ms Lee had apparently talked to nurses at North Shore about removing the tubes, but her parents interceded.
Offering support: Members of the congregation in Ms Lee's room, praying for her to be healed
A Facebook page entitled Save Grace SungEun Lee cites a passage from the Old Testament, which reads: ‘”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’
A post from Tuesday reads: ‘We can see God’s powers working every day and know that God has a plan for her too!’
Children from the congregation have written notes of encouragement for the 28-year-old, with one writing: ‘I hope you feel better. I miss you, Grace Teacher.’
Cultural, as well as religious differences have come to play in Ms Lee’s case. Rev Young Gab Hyun said: ‘In Korean culture…we believe that the decisions that the parents make have a lot more influence in this type of matter.’
Words of love: Young members of the church offered kind words to Ms Lee, calling her 'Grace Teacher,' and pleading with her to come back soon
‘The role of religion in medial decision making really pertains to the patient,’ Tia Powell, M.D., the director of Montefiore Einstein Center for Bioethics, told MailOnline.
‘If the patient is capable of making her decisions, then that’s where we would honour.’
Dr Powell added that while it may be heart-wrenching for the parents to face, she said the goal of bioethics is to bring the families together. ‘The question is not whether she’s going to die, it’s how she’s going to die.
‘There’s nothing worse than losing a child,’ she said, ‘but there are limits to medical treatment. There are many things we cannot fix, we cannot perform miracles.’
Dr Powell said that there are some practices that could help Ms Lee’s parents come to terms with their daughter’s illness. ‘These are religious people, and they know we are all mortal,’ she said. ‘Being clear about that can maybe help decrease their suffering.’