Whose Life Is It Anyway?

When Edward and Michele Wernecke rejected standard medical treatment for their cancer-stricken daughter, the state took twelve-year-old Katie out of their custody—and set off a nationwide debate over the meaning of parents’ rights.

ON THE SATURDAY BEFORE HALLOWEEN, Edward Wernecke stood in his kitchen, thumbing through a stack of file folders filled with photocopies and Internet printouts of medical articles. The solemn 53-year-old rancher was indifferent to the flies that buzzed around the room and landed once in a while on his face and white Resistol. Edward’s wife, 37-year-old Michele, stood nearby. Despite the cheering crescendos of the couple’s 3-, 5-, and 14-year-old sons, who chased a toy monster truck through the hallways, Michele and Edward seemed unruffled. It was hard to know whether they were intensely focused or simply dazed.

Speaking in a methodical, relaxed monotone, Edward laid out his family’s ten-month-long ordeal, a story made famous by TV reports and newspaper headlines. It had all started

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