Judge Returns Young Patient to Parents
Faced with her deteriorating health, state district Judge Jack Hunter said Katie Wernecke would be better off with her family in Corpus Christi than in the custody of the foster parents she was assigned by Child Protective Services.
"CPS and the Werneckes are never, ever going to agree," Hunter said. "If I leave it up to CPS and the Werneckes ... this child is going to die for lack of anything being done."
Child Protective Services removed Katie from her family after her parents stopped her cancer treatment. Her father, Edward Wernecke, worried that a move to radiation treatment could put his daughter at heightened risk for breast cancer, stunt her growth and cause learning problems.
Before the ruling, Hunter told Wernecke to "look at me man to man, eyeball to eyeball" and promise he would do the best for Katie. Wernecke said he would.
Katie's parents have made several attempts to stop treatment for the girl's Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes. She was diagnosed in January and began receiving chemotherapy, which doctors recommended be followed with radiation.
Katie's oncologist has said her chances of surviving have fallen from 80 percent to about 20 percent because of incomplete treatment.
State lawyers argued that her life would be endangered if she did not continue treatments at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
"We certainly understand why the judge would want Katie at home with her family at this point of her illness," CPS spokesman Aaron Reed said. "This isn't the outcome we advocated for, but our goal all along has been for Katie to get the treatment she needs and get better and go home."
Wernecke's parents were overjoyed with the judge's decision.
"The good news is we're getting Katie back," Edward Wernecke said. Her mother, Michelle Wernecke, added, "She's going to be home soon, it feels great."
In a statement, family attorney James Pikl said the decision had larger implications for parental rights in Texas.
"When your child becomes sick, you do not have to merely stand by while state CPS workers tell you what care your child will receive," he said. "You also need not fear that CPS will take your child away from you simply because you have a disagreement with CPS about what treatment is right for your child."
Edward Wernecke said he wanted to try alternatives such as intravenous vitamin C before considering radiation as a possible last resort.
"If that were her last hope, and it was the only other thing that would save her life, then I would do it," Wernecke testified.
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