Judge dismisses end-of-life case brought by family of Buddhist

By Megan Tench, Boston Globe, December 5, 2006

Boston, MA (USA) -- A Suffolk Family and Probate Court judge today dismissed a controversial end-of-life case involving 72-year-old Cho Fook Cheng, ruling that it is moot because the Buddhist died over the weekend.

 << A photo of Cho Fook Cheng, 72, held by his son. The family reluctantly agreed to let his last dose of medicine run out.

But a lawyer for Cheng's family said that they will continue seeking a ruling that points to the delicate issue on how hospitals should reconcile modern technology and patients' religious practices.

"This is [a] situation capable of repetition, and the family does not want anyone else to have to go through this," said the lawyer, Peter J. Unitt.

After Cheng suffered a heart attack two weeks ago and was later pronounced brain dead by doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, his family went to court to keep Cheng on life support systems keeping his organs functioning. The family, who practice a Taiwanese school of Buddhism called Jing-Tao-Chung, said that according to their religious beliefs a person is only considered dead when his heart stops beating.

Under state law, however, a person is considered deceased when their brain ceases to function. Doctors also argued that Cheng's body was rapidly deteriorating.

After a family court hearing Friday, the family reluctantly agreed to let Cheng's medical supply run out so that his heart would stop beating naturally. That happened Saturday afternoon, and his family began 49 days of mourning.

Though Family Probate Judge Nancy M. Gould ruled that the issue before her is now moot, Unitt said he will explore other avenues, including filing an appeal, or taking the matter to the Supreme Judicial Court or the state Legislature.

"This is going to come up again and somebody will have to answer the question," he said.