Judge Says Parents Will Make Decisions for Daughter

11-2-05 - Parents who have been fighting state officials over their 13-year-old daughter's cancer care can make all her medical decisions, a judge ruled Wednesday, officially ending a long and widely watched battle.

State District Judge Jack Hunter dismissed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from Katie Wernecke's case Monday. But until Wednesday he had yet to sign an official order and clarify what treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston would be completed before the family could pursue an alternative treatment they prefer.

Hunter's ruling said Katie must complete her current round of chemotherapy and be stable to travel, which could happen by the end of the week.

Children's Protective Services spokesman Aaron Reed said the state would respect the judge's ruling.

"I think we all understand that this has been a very emotionally charged case," he said. "We just have different opinions as to what is best for her."

CPS took custody of Katie in June after a doctor told social workers her parents were risking her life by refusing treatment. She has been living with a foster family and attending school at the hospital.

Katie's father, Edward Wernecke, said he wants to take his daughter to the Bright Spot for Health clinic in Wichita, Kan., which offers intravenous vitamin C. Wernecke hopes the vitamin will kill the cancer and strengthen her immune system.

"We'll get her as soon as the doctors say it's OK, hopefully Friday or Saturday," he said. "We're going right to Kansas."

Katie was diagnosed in January with Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes.

After initial rounds of chemotherapy, the tumor in her chest appeared gone and the Werneckes refused the radiation treatments that M.D. Anderson doctors recommended.

Dr. Robert Wells, Katie's pediatric oncologist at M.D. Anderson, said Monday that Katie's chances of surviving the disease had dwindled from 80 percent to as low as 20 percent.

Peter Johnston of the Texas Center for Family Rights said he was elated by the decision.

"The most intimate decisions are best made by the parents except in cases of serious neglect, where they're not doing anything," Johnston said.

Hunter was the third judge to hear the case. The previous judge, Carl Lewis, recused himself after the Texas Supreme Court overturned parts of his ruling barring contact between Katie and her father. Another judge was removed from the case after objections were raised by CPS attorneys.

Hunter, a cancer survivor himself, said that time was running out as lawyers argued and he had to move at "Mach speed."

The ruling orders that Katie be consulted in her treatment care.

Linda Rhodes-Schauer, Katie's court-appointed attorney, has said that Katie had warmed to radiation treatment and said she would listen to doctors. She had previously stalled treatment by tearing out catheters and refusing to follow instructions about fasting.