A state appellate court Friday cleared the way for a Long Island hospital to take a terminally ill woman off life support -- if she chooses to go against the wishes of her deeply religious parents.
The Appellate Division in Brooklyn denied a petition by Sungeun Grace Lee's parents to continue a restraining order that had prevented hospital officials from removing her from a ventilator.
Lee's court-appointed lawyer said he visited her shortly after the ruling, and while she was relieved to regain control of her medical decisions, she has no immediate plans to ask doctors to remove her from life support.
The attorney, David Smith of Garden City, said he intends to visit her daily to see if her feelings change.
Lee's father, Man Ho Lee, pastor of Antioch Missionary Church in Flushing, Queens, and her mother, Jin Ah Lee, sought to stop the hospital from removing life support. They contend their 28-year-old daughter is depressed, on drugs that cloud her judgment and being pressured by doctors at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, where she lies paralyzed with brain cancer.
According to their religious beliefs, removing oneself from life support is tantamount to suicide, a sin.
At a news conference outside the hospital last night, Grace Lee's father said his daughter, a Manhattan bank manager from Douglaston, Queens, has changed her mind and wants to live. He said he plans to challenge the appellate ruling.
"Mr. Smith told me that Grace showed a strong confidence she wants to live," Man Ho Lee said through a Korean translator, referring to a conversation he said Grace had with her attorney and physicians Friday morning.
But Smith disputed that, calling the father's words "wishful thinking."
"What Grace said to me was that she is not ready right now to make the decision to stop life support, and that she will make her own decisions going forward," Smith said. But he added that Grace Lee is glad to be finished for the moment with the legal battle against her parents and "reunited as mom, dad and dying daughter."
Depending on what may happen over the weekend, the legal battle may resume Tuesday, when a Nassau judge will hold a hearing to determine whether Man Ho Lee will be appointed his daughter's legal guardian, allowing him to make medical decisions on her behalf.
Terry Lynam, a spokesman for North Shore LIJ, said Friday the hospital will respect any decision Grace Lee makes.
"The hospital will abide by whatever she wants to do," he said.
After suffering seizures, Lee was rushed to the hospital on Sept. 3, and later diagnosed as suffering from a tumor on her brain stem.
Paralyzed from the neck down, she was hooked up to a machine that breathes for her. If removed from the ventilator, she is likely to die within 15 minutes, Smith said.
"She has no ability to breathe on her own," he said.
With Zachary Dowdy