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PATIENT GETS LAST WISH, IS TAKEN OFF MACHINE

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A victim of Lou Gehrig's disease was taken off a respirator at her own request and died less than an hour later, a family member said Saturday.

Thelma Stussy, 51, of Philadelphia, died shortly after 5 p.m. Friday, less than an hour after she was granted her last wish to die."I'm not relieved but I'm glad for her," Stussy's husband, Albert, said in a telephone interview.

Paralyzed from the neck down and wracked with pain from the degenerative muscle disease, Stussy asked her family to go to court to force Neumann Medical Center to remove her from the respirator that enabled her to breathe.

Philadelphia County Common Pleas Judge Nicholas D'Alessandro went to her bedside Wednesday and determined, through Stussy's blinks and slight head shakes, that she was aware of the consequences of her decision.

The next day he ordered her to be taken off the machine by May 2, unless she changed her mind.

The woman's doctor had fought the woman's wish on moral grounds.

The ruling is the second such right-to-die case in Pennsylvania. Another Common Pleas Court judge in 1987 issued a similar ruling in the case of a woman with the same paralyzing disease.

Court officials said the case does not set a precedent because it only reached the trial court level and there was no legal opposition to require an appeal.

Stussy entered the hospital Dec. 28 complaining of shortness of breath. Soon it became apparent she needed a ventilator to breathe.

"At that time if we knew what was really going to happen to her we wouldn't have put her on the ventilator in the first place," Albert Stussy said. "We thought she'd be in the hospital for a short while and then come back home again.

"But by the end of January, things were really going downhill and we knew she was not going to get better."