Mourn for Katie Wernecke...

...because it looks like she's doomed.

After I wrote about this unfortunate child yesterday, I was informed that parents have won full custody, and plan on taking her to Kansas as soon as possible for Vitamin C "therapy":
CORPUS CHRISTI — 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 today, 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 today 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."
I suppose it could be argued that, because, thanks to her parents' intransigence, Katie's odds of survival are so poor anyway, she might as well spend her remaining time with the family who loves her, rather than being forced to spend her limited time remaining in a foster home that she hates. I can't think of any other reasonable rationale for the judge's decision in this case. Particularly jaw-dropping is this quote:
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.
The parents were preventing Katie from receiving life-saving therapy for her cancer! If that's not "serious neglect," I don't know what is. It doesn't matter that they think they're doing the best thing for their daughter. The end result is the same.

Katie's only hope is that the chemotherapy she has received thus far is adequate to save her. However, without high dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation, her odds have dropped even more, because intravenous vitamin C is useless for treating cancer. Multiple studies from the 1970's and 1980's show that it does no better than placebo, and there is certainly no evidence that it will kill the cancer or "strengthen her immune system" (an all-purpose altie claim that means nothing). And check out the website for this Bright Spot for Health clinic. It's a veritable cornucopia of altie nonsense:
At The Center, we are specialists in certain alternative approaches. These include, but are not limited to, nutritional medicine, ear and body acupuncture, detecting and removing excessive amounts of heavy metals from the body, detecting adverse food reactions and hidden parasites, therapeutic massage, and techniques of mental medicine which positively impact psychoneuroimmunology.
They also seem to be big on "orthomolecular medicine," the concept that Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling sullied his legacy by associating himself with it in his later years. The vast majority of the "scientific" articles cited on the website come from the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, and the rest do not address the question of whether vitamin C actually does anything to treat cancer in actual living human beings. They do, however, sure look impressive to a non-scientist or non-physician.

As was pointed out in the comments yesterday and as I pointed out very early in this blog's history and then multiple times after, if alties survive cancer (or any other horrible disease) after taking conventional treatments and then alternative medicine, they will almost always credit the alternative medicine and not the previous conventional treatment. If by some miracle Katie beats the odds (which have just gotten a whole lot longer) and survives her cancer recurrence, you can bet that she and her parents won't attribute her survival to the conventional therapy that she has received thus far. They will attribute it to the vitamin C and prayer, not to mention her parent's "courageous battle" against the state to allow them to give her intravenous vitamin C. She will become a testimonial.

For her sake, I hope she does become a testimonial.

Unfortunately for this unlucky child, it is far more likely that she will soon become a cancer mortality statistic.


  1. Yes, on a global scale, it's a no-win situation. On the one hand, she might die. On the other hand, if she lives, more people will be encouraged to follow such "treatments" and will die because of it.

  2. There's a placebo effect with cancers? To what extent?

  3. These things are always hard to judge from the outside.

    If a child's chances of survival are say, 10%, should parents always be compelled to allow treatment, knowing that if the child dies, it will be after recurrent rounds of chemotherapy, probably recurrent infections and a lot of pain?
    We also see parents who have trouble letting go even when there is no hope.

    Or even on a personal level, conjure up a disease for which we are told, "The treatment for this will either cure you, or it will kill you in a painful agonizing way."
    What's the "right" decision?

  4. I wonder if it would help to point out to these people that Linus Pauling died of prostate cancer?

  5. Greg P., your questions are interesting in a theoretical way (and I've known people who've had to make those decisions) but they don't apply in this case. The odds of survival here are much higher.

    What I don;t get is this: If the parents are so impressed with the power of prayer, why are they dragging the girl off for these IV treatments?

  6. Wha?
    "..hard to judge from the outside."
    The mind boggles.

    Your analogy is lopsided, and fails to recognize the pain the child will suffer from the cancer under the VitC "treatment."

    In this case:

    Choice 1: Use proven medical techniques
    Result: Some chance of recovery, after some painful sessions in a hospital, but the very real possibility of death with decent (not perfect) pain control in hospital.

    Choice 2: Use IV Vitamin C
    Result: Certain Death from metastisized cancers - an excruciating way to die. No details on how well her pain will be controlled by the alterative clinic.

    Parents in denial kill too many children. They are contemptible. Bet on science, not magic.

    Your Personal Level question - I've had a scarier question put to me:

    The painfull treatment for this terminal, agressive condition will either:
    a> leave you chronically ill, but with a good quality of life.
    b> leave you brain-damaged, with a low quality of life.
    c> kill you.

    In situations like that, there is no choice. You go with the medical treatment, hope for A, Plan for B & C, and walk into the operating theatre as a Human Being, rather than gibbering in the darkness in ignorant, animal terror until the illness takes you.

  7. Outeast:

    It’s not necessarily placebo per se – what happens is that the disease goes into remission by itself or is cleared up by other therapies.

  8. The implication of "no better than placebo" is that there is no real effect from the treatment, not that there is a positive effect. The placebo effect refers to an improvement in a person's condition that is not a true effect of the treatment. Thus, one can say that the vitamin C treatment is no better than giving a patient an inert pill.

  9. I think the key point of the whole story is what Orac wrote: "It doesn't matter that they think they're doing the best thing for their daughter. The end result is the same". One of the most dangerous notions of our times is that if the Heart is in the right place, it doesn't really matter if the Head is in the wrong place. This is utter nonsense. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is an ancient proverb. As we pay our tributes to Rosa Parks, we should remember that Martin Luther King, Jr., spurred on by her activism, said that the two most dangerous things in the world were sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

    This notion leads people to confuse honesty or sincerity with veracity. A statement is not either a "truth" or a "lie"; it's quite possible for a statement to be sincere, honest, and false. Good character cannot play the role of a "guarantor" of the truth in the way that reason, evidence, or even religious revelations (within the limited world of the believer) can.

  10. If she survives, the parents will give credit to the alternative treatment. If she dies the parents will blame the medical establishment for delaying the alternative treatment which would have saved her.

    And to the parents it will make perfect sense.

  11. "Parents in denial kill too many children. They are contemptible. Bet on science, not magic."

    It may sound cold, and it's certainly hard on the kids, but this really *IS* evolution in action. In this respect, parents who deny their children proper medical care are little different from those who starve, maim, or strangle their kids. If the kids die, the parents' genes die with them. And the next generation has fewer such idiots.

  12. Damned activist judges . . . wait, he's ruled in favor of religious dim bulbs, so he must be a fair and balanced judge.

  13. Great post, Orac. Such a sad story. Unlike Dave Harmon, I think it's less of a latent, hereditary paranoia that drives alties so much as it is misinformation. Better to inform them than let them die off, otherwise their ranks would never shrink. If you wanted to remove the population of humans who possess the gene for gullibility, it would probably take something much more than a few bungled altie treatments - maybe something like a large asteroid.


  14. In my microbiology class yesterday I explained how the clinical trial for polio vaccine was done. Vaccinate half the kids, give saline to the other half. After a year.... count the dead kids. Then unseal the the blind trial. (The kids in the trial were volunteered by their parents in an attempt to stop the monster in 1955).
    Then one student said " why didn't they try Vitamin C first"?
    My original plan in kindergarten to become A Garbage Truck Man! suddenly looked like a missed opportunity. sigh.

  15. "Unlike Dave Harmon, I think it's less of a latent, hereditary paranoia that drives alties so much as it is misinformation."

    Just to clarify, I don't think it's anything quite so specific as you state. And while misinformation can be a problem, it's not like these folks didn't have access to real medical info -- for whatever psychological and/or religious reasons, they chose not to believe the real doctors.

    The weird thing about evolution is that it doesn't actually matter why the parents' reproductive efforts fail, but if there happens to *be* a particular reason, natural selection is likely to "zero in" on it.

    In this case, a possible "selectable characteristic" might be: "prone to prolonged panic responses under stress". Of course, you'd need centuries at least, before you could actually notice the population becoming more sensible! (I'll let someone else take the Canadian joke. ;-) )

  16. Also, as I commented in the euthanasia thread, elsewhere, it's hard to justify overruling the parents on something like this, given they are the "primary stakeholders" in the child. Of course, a 13-year-old could have objected on her own behalf, but this one seems not to have done so.

    I would hope that if Katie *had* wanted to continue (real) treatment, the judge would have raised holy hell. But consider: who pays for her treatment if she becomes a ward of the state?

  17. Who pays for her treatment now? If the father has good insurance, the insurance company does, spreading the cost among its subscribers. If the father doesn't have good insurance, the state is already paying for Katie's treatment.

  18. Dave Harmon..

    Speaking of Evolution, the problem here is that the 'Stupid denial of medical treatment' trait may well correlate strongly with the 'Strongly reliegous' trait, and most religons engourage reproduction. Basically, as long as this group have more kids on average than they lose due to stupidity, their genes will spread. Evolution only favours intellegence when intellegence means more surviving offspring.

  19. Has anybody asked Katie what she wants? She's old enough to decide. She doesn't seem to disagree with her parents. I wouldn't want Chemotherapy or Radiation either. The only thing I've seen it do is make people sick and weak. How many people have died from that? No matter how great something is, there's more than likely always going to be somebody who dies regardless of whether they're taking it. If I was in the same situation, I would seek every alternative possible, and after all of my sources ran out, I would simply die in pain. Chemotherapy and Radiation would never be an option for me, nor would I recommend it for anybody I love or know.

  20. MarkD: A cogent point, but consider that "more kids with less care" amounts to a "K/r" shift toward "r".

    Now, H.sapiens in general is probably the "K-est" species on the planet to begin with. More, we eagerly use technology to be even more so (birth control, pediatric medicine).

    At first thought, trying to retreat towards "r" sounds like it's just a mistake, given that most societies head the other way given half a chance.

    On second thought, it could be a "takeover bid" by population pressure, but ya know, one solid plague could really trash their plans on that one.

    Third thoughts... higher reproductive rates, countered by harsher selection, yields speedier evolution. That is, long-term, their sub-population might well be selecting for useful resistances, both for cancer, and perhaps some infectious diseases as well.

    (Whether they believe in evolution, is of course irrelevant. Reality doesn't care if you believe in it!)

  21. Whoops, the comment addressed to "MarkD" was in response to "andyd"'s note. Got my names scrambled by reading too fast.

  22. Dave H

    I think this is the problem; in western societies, there is no physical reason why most women could not have 10 kids and expect 9.5 to reach reproductive age; the reason we don't being considerations of lifestyle, culture, etc. However, a 'meme' causing people to devote themselves entirely to reproduction could easily spread in this situation.. it would take a generation or two before society collapsed. Then intellgence would become a selective advantage again.

    D Taylor: Given that the 'alternatives' are a mixture of things that have been tested and don't work (Vitamins, Laterile, et. al) and things for which there is no evidence for effectiveness, you are essentially claiming that instead of going through the pain of cancer treatment and having a chance of living, you wish to go through the pain of cancer and face certain death. Whilst spending huge amounts of time and money on ineffective 'treatments'. That does not sound very clever; but it is evolution in action, I suppose.

  23. AndyD:

    "in western societies, there is no physical reason why most women could not have 10 kids and expect 9.5 to reach reproductive age"

    I beg to differ here! Even with modern medicine, pregnancy & childbirth are still a physical ordeal and frequent cause-of-death for women. (And with modern medicine, it also costs lots of money!) And all those kids still need to be fed, housed, etc.

    Consider that if you've got 10 kids, but only enough food (etc.) for 9, you don't get 9 live kids and one deader; you get 10 malnourished kids, with all the usual effects on their health, education, and work prospects. Much the same applies to medical care, shelter, and socialization. This has been an issue throughout human history, and it's why historically, the main alternative to birth control has been infanticide.

    Of course, in the modern nations, we have Departments of Child Services and suchlike, but orphanages and fostering programs naturally get last suck off the public teat. And at least here in NYC, we're *still* seeing dead babies....

    "a 'meme' causing people to devote themselves entirely to reproduction"

    "... it would take a generation or two before society collapsed."

    Well, this sort of thing has happened often enough in our evolutionary history (i.e. clear back to the squirreloids and further), that the lessons thereof are still retained in our instincts.

    These form a sub-intellectual constraint against such idiocy, comparable to an immune system. Any "meme" regarding reproduction needs to confront those instincts in every host it tries to "infect", and if there's too much conflict, the meme gets rejected. Like our physical immune system, this doesn't work perfectly, but it does work pretty well.

    To put it another way: just try telling your wife/sister/daughter that her duty to evolution is to bear as many children as she physically can, and never mind how many you/she can afford to raise. Even in Saudi Arabia, that's going to go over like a lead balloon.

  24. AndyD: Maybe you could be unaware somethings that have been tested and DO work? I know of a lot of doctors that offer this stuff in place of "proven" chemotherapy. Chemo doesn't save every person's life, so why isn't it considered a failure? Yes, I would rather take an alternative that I believe would work than go through chemo and get its side affects. You should look into some of the stuff I'm talking about. If you go to my site, it will show you a bunch of information that could make a lot of people happy.

  25. Dianne said...
    I wonder if it would help to point out to these people that Linus Pauling died of prostate cancer?

    He may have died of prostate cancer, but he died at age 92.

    I invite everybody here to listen to a recording of Dr. Halverson here:
    where it first says "click here"

  26. You know, I just looked at your website, Denise. It makes me wonder if Peter Bowditch has had an opportunity to see it...

  27. D Taylor:

    Well, if there ARE 'alternative' treatments that actually work, then I would ask you to give examples. After all, the chances are very high indeed that someone in my immediate family will get cancer of one sort or another.

    Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy and surgery - and other conventional cancer treatments - do not save everyone. However, stastitics are kept for these treatments so that we know (for instance) how much longer people live with these treatments as opposed to doing nothing, how many people stay cancer-free, etc. This is called 'evidence based medicine'. And if a treatment does not improve outcomes, it is dropped. Can you say the same about any of the alternatives you may be thinking of?

  28. Dave H:

    Of course, I live in the Socialist Worker's Paradise of the United Kingdom.. well, having babies dosen't incur medical expenses here (I should know, we have an 8 week old); just the loss-of-one-income expense. Now, if we 'went for it', I'm fairly sure we could get to 6 or 7; the house would be very cosy, and we'd live on very basic food, but if we were in the grip of some religon demanding constant reproduction,it would not be physically impossible. As the original story shows (and Jehovas witnesses, etc) people are perfectly capable of acting against their own interests if their beliefs or social circle demand it. As an aside, the population of Saudi arabia was 6 million in 1980 and is now 20+ million.

    Of course, I'm not going to suggest the above to my wife, being beaten to death can spoil your day.

    I think my point is/was that a load of 'dumb reproducers' acting irrationally could easily overwhelm the 'rationals' whenever basic resources were plentiful - indeed, such behaviour could even evolve with people changing strategies according to circumstance.

  29. AndyD, you said: However, stastitics are kept for these treatments so that we know (for instance) how much longer people live with these treatments as opposed to doing nothing...

    So, this is somehow different from when Linus Pauling died at age 92 instead of earlier because he was taking Vitamin C? I would think that if what Greenwoodhealth is selling didn't work, they would be bankrupt right now and would have hundreds of thousands (best I can figure they've sold since 2000) of opened, partially used bottles sitting in the warehouse instead of some of those products being on backorder.

    Orac, I'm not sure who Peter Bowditch is, but I will look up more info on him after I get done with this. What does he have to do with that website? I'd like to know if you don't mind telling.

  30. D Taylor:

    I remind you that I just asked which of these alternative treatments had been tested and validated as working. The fact that people buy something does not mean that it works.

    Now we get to the heart of the matter. You can not take a single case history as proof of the effectiveness or otherwise of a given treatment; you have to come up with stastitics. How do you know that Pauling would not have lived to 100 had he NOT taken vitamin C? How do you know that vitamin C influenced his life expectancy at all?

    The only way such questions can be answered is by following a large number of patients over time and comparing them with another large number who are not recieving the treatment. Which alternative treatments has this been done for?

  31. AndyD:
    Which alternative treatments has this been done for?
    How about an ingredient in Greenwoodhealth products - Chinese Wolfberry?

    A group of researchers from the Natural Science Institute discovered a region on the West Elbow Plateau of the Yellow River in Inner Mongolia where people lived to be over 120 years old. 20 to 40 years longer than the average person in the region. The inhabitants shared traits that distinguished them from others: They were predominantly vegetarians and consumed wolfberries daily.

    or AlliMax®? also an ingredient
    is allicin:
    According to a new study from the National Cancer Institute, garlic and similar vegetables may be the reason Chinese men have so little prostate cancer, and the latest research developments indicate garlic's primary active ingredient, (allicin) may become a major player on the health scene.

  32. Orac:
    Yes, Peter Bowditch does know about the site.

    More information on the studies and research on the ingredients on the products is on the website. Of course, with the FDA, they can't say too much or post testomonials. Just gotta love the FDA, and we all know how "safe" it keeps us.

  33. D Taylor:

    There is a reason that the FDA does not allow testimonials, and requires that people selling medicine actually test what they are selling (properly) before selling it. This is to prevent fraudsters and scam artists taking advantage of people who are ill and desparate. Now, where is that evidence?

  34. There is plenty of evidence in the studies and research on the site, just follow the ingredients links. The FDA keeps companies from scamming ill people? If they did that, then there wouldn't be near as many addictive "medicines" out there. I will never believe that the FDA isn't out to scam the world themselves. If they were worried about really helping people, it wouldn't cost so much to get a product licensed as a medicine. Then after it was approved for a drug, they wouldn't immediately raise the cost of it. If anything that Greenwood Health was selling actually became a drug, which, God willing, is never does, then the price for it would triple, which is why the owners of the company do NOT WANT it to be FDA approved. They keep costs high enough to stay in business, but low enough that people can afford them.

  35. Oh, this was never about curing the child for Edward Wernecke. It was about control. The poor deluded man is determined to control people related to him even if it results in their deaths. (His offspring from his first marriage responded by ending contact with him.)

    The situation is sad. Euphemisms aside, Katie Wernecke was sent home to die after her father successfully sabotaged her treatment. She had an 80 to 85 percent chance of survival if chemotherapy and radiation had been administered promptly. Now, her chance of survival is less than 20 percent. Pathetic.

  36. Katie was in state custody for 5 months, and has just completed her 4th round of chemotherapy.

    From the time she was taken prisoner, to the beginning of her therapy was nearly 40 days. The state had total control over her and there was no issue with compliance. She only resisted the high-dose chemo and that lasted for only a few days. (Resistance is futile).

    M.D. Anderson has admitted she was not responding to therapy, most likely due to the relentless emotional brutality and trauma she has experienced at the hands of CPS.

    No wonder Utah DoCS refused to seize Parker Jensen. At least they had the foresight to know it would never work. Fortunately, Judge Hunter does.

  37. If people here has read the history of Katie, you would know that her parents originally had her take chemotherapy. So they aren't against the standard chemotherapy. The state took Katie so that radiation therapy could be administered which has not been done. Since Katie has returned to her parents she has had chemotherapy and vitamin C therapy from what I can gather. She is under the care of an oconologist(sp?) just not one of the state choosing.

    The doctor that sayed her survival was reduced from 80% to 25% or less because of her parents actions is saying that in the 2 weeks in the summer when the parents had objections on the radiation treatment cause the decline in Katie's survivability and not the 4 weeks of non-action by the hosipital as they evaluated her.

    One could ask why Katie wasn't given radiation treatment the day after the state took control of her since that was the permise of state's arguement of taking control of her for medical reason.

  38. Pharmacologic ascorbic acid concentrations
    selectively kill cancer cells: Action as a pro-drug
    to deliver hydrogen peroxide to tissues

    Chen Q et al.

    Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Sep 20;102(38):13604-9. Epub 2005 Sep 12.

    Molecular and Clinical Nutrition Section, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.

    Human pharmacokinetics data indicate that i.v. ascorbic acid (ascorbate) in pharmacologic concentrations could have an unan-ticipated role in cancer treatment. Our goals here were to test whether ascorbate killed cancer cells selectively, and if so, to determine mechanisms, using clinically relevant conditions. Cell death in 10 cancer and 4 normal cell types was measured by using 1-h exposures. Normal cells were unaffected by 20 mM ascorbate, whereas 5 cancer lines had EC50 values of <4 mM, a concentration easily achievable i.v. Human lymphoma cells were studied in detail because of their sensitivity to ascorbate (EC50 of 0.5 mM) and suitability for addressing mechanisms. Extracellular but not intra-cellular ascorbate mediated cell death, which occurred by apoptosis and pyknosis chelators and absolutely dependent on H2O2 formation. Cell death from H2O2 added to cells was identical to that found when H2O2
    was generated by ascorbate treatment. H2O2 generation was dependent on ascorbate concentration, incubation time, and the presence of 0.5–10% serum, and displayed a linear relationship with ascorbate radical formation.

    Although ascorbate addition to medium generated H2O2, ascorbate addition to blood generated no detectable H2O2 and only trace detectable ascorbate radical.

    Taken together, these data indicate that ascorbate at concentrations achieved only by i.v. administration may be a pro-drug for formation of H2O2, and that blood can be a delivery system of the pro-drug to tissues.

    These findings give plausibility to i.v. ascorbic acid in cancer treatment, and have unexpected implications for treatment of infections where H2O2 may be beneficial.


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