Paralyzed Woman Fights Parents for Her Right to Die

This story is probably everyone's worst nightmare and almost too sad to type. But I think it teaches an important health lesson. Grace Sung Eun Lee was a vibrant 28-year-old bank manager from Manhattan who was living the life all hope to live -- she was happy, healthy, had lots of friends, a good job, was active in her church, and was close to her family, especially her Korean immigrant parents. She was even training for the New York City marathon.

And then one day this young, healthy woman suddenly became ill. An inoperable cancerous tumor was found in her brain. And then she had a seizure and became paralyzed from the neck down. If you are ever tempted to bewail your day because someone blew you off or your kids are annoying you, please read this paragraph again. This woman's entire life was suddenly, irrevocably, and unfairly taken away from her. Is it any wonder she wishes to die?


When Grace came out of her seizure and found herself paralyzed, and with terminal brain cancer to boot, she made it very clear to both her doctors and her family: She wishes to have her tubes pulled and to be allowed to die.

But her parents, understandably, do not want to see her go. For one, both are very religious, her father is a pastor, and they believe that this is suicide and therefore she won't go to heaven.

So Grace's father rushed down to a court and got a temporary stay to keep Grace's tubes from being pulled. Her parents say that Grace is depressed (um, yeah) and heavily medicated and isn't in the frame of mind to make this big of a decision.

They have a point. However, anyone whose quality of life has suddenly plummeted to such a degree with no hope of relief would probably be depressed and on medication.

Doctors and a judge say that Grace is competent and can make her own medical decision, so it's likely that Grace will soon get her wish and be freed from her suffering.

But this just points out the necessity of even young, healthy people appointing a power of attorney who can make medical decisions for you. It's difficult to think about what you might want in the event of such a catastrophic event -- and likely you're not even totally sure how you will feel if anything like this happened.

But discuss it with people close to you and then appoint someone who agrees that, no matter what, your fate would be your choice. This might not even be an obvious person like your mother or husband. Maybe it's a friend you know will listen to you.

My heart goes out to Grace and to her family. This life can be very unfair and very cruel sometimes.

Have you discussed with your family what to do in an event like this?

Image via Mark Hillary/Flickr

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