Saturday, July 05, 2008

Ottawa's Unfinished Autism Business

Autism should not be a partisan issue.

Here in New Brunswick progress has been made under the former Conservative government of Bernard Lord and the current Liberal government of Shawn Graham. It is more difficult to say the same of the situation in Ottawa where the separatist Bloc Québécois and the Conservative government of Stephen Harper combined to defeat Charlottetown Liberal MP Shawn Murphy's Private Members Bill C-304 which would have provided a real National Autism Treatment Strategy to ensure adequate financing and ABA/IEBI treatment for Canada's autistic children whether they had the good fortune to reside in a province sitting on large oil reserves or not.

The rationale for defeating Bill C-304 offered by the Harper Conservative party - that health care is a matter within provincial legislative jurisdiction - ignores the reality that we already have federal health care legislation - the very Canada Health Act that Bill C-304 would have amended. If the Canada Health Act itself can exist, whether by some constitutional basis for federal health care competency; or by the cooperation, compassion and common sense of Canadians then so too can an amendment to that Act.

Even weaker is the argument, often advanced by the Harper government's offical autism dad, Mike Lake, that:

If this Bill were to pass, autism would be the one and only disorder or disease named in the Canada Health Act. Cancer is not named. Neither is diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Why autism and not these? Why not Down Syndrome? Why not Schizophrenia?

Under the Canada Health Act, the provinces are clearly responsible for decisions on which medical treatments they will fund. If we are to maintain the integrity of the Act, only the provinces can make those decisions.

To answer the first question the fact that autism would be the first to be named should be irrelevant. The need for a national effort to address Canada's autism crisis is clear. The Conservative government acknowledged that fact when it adopted Fredericton MP Andy Scott' s motion calling for a National Autism Strategy. While recognizing the need for such a strategy the Harper government has steadfastly refused to put any teeth in it. If the need for a National Strategy exists to address other disorders and diseases they can be looked at on case by case basis. There is no reason not to name autism now because other disorders and diseases may also have to be considered. Each can be examined on a case by case basis as required.

Provinces across Canada have begun financing, to the extent they are capable, the ABA that has been acknowledged, most recently (October 29, 2007) by the American Academy of Pediatrics, as the most evidence based effective treatment for autism:

The effectiveness of ABA-based intervention in ASDs has been well documented through 5 decades of research by using single-subject methodology21,25,27,28 and in controlled studies of comprehensive early intensive behavioral intervention programs in university and community settings.29–40 Children who receive early intensive behavioral treatment have been shown to make substantial, sustained gains in IQ, language, academic performance, and adaptive behavior as well as some measures of social behavior, and their outcomes have been significantly better than those of children in control groups.31–40

Even Mr Lake has acknowledged the effectiveness of ABA in treating autism; he just doesn't seem to understand that not all provinces have the finances to properly fund ABA for all autistic children:

In my opinion, it is completely unacceptable for any province not to fund Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) for those who need it. If voters feel as strongly as I do about this, they must let their provincial governments know and then hold them accountable at election time.

As for the integrity of the Act what is that? An Act is established to give effect to the will of the people through their elected representatives on a given matter. They can change the scheme, structure, or "integrity" of the Act if that reflects the will of the people at that time. If Canadians want to provide financing for ABA treatment for autism, and judging by the number of provinces that provide some level of ABA treatment funding they do, then the only challenge for those provinces not as well off, is to find the money to adequately fund the treatment.

The last I checked the federal government has no qualms about taking money, in the form of taxes, from the pockets of Canadian families wherever they live. They should have no qualms about spending some of that money to help provide effective ABA treatment for persons with autism.

Mike Lake's autistic son deserves the opportunity to access the ABA treatment funded by oil rich Alberta. So too does Joe Smith's son in PEI, Jacques LeBlanc's son in Quebec and Joe Kowalchuck's son in Saskatchewan. It is long past time that the Harper government ceased making a mockery of its commitment to a National Autism Strategy and amended the Canada Health Act as set out in Shawn Murphy's Bill C-304. There is no good reason not to.


First Session, Thirty-ninth Parliament,
55 Elizabeth II, 2006


BILL C-304



MR. MURPHY (Charlottetown)

1st Session, 39th Parliament,
55 Elizabeth II, 2006


BILL C-304

An Act to provide for the development of a
national strategy for the treatment of
autism and to amend the Canada Health

Her Majesty, by and with the advice and
consent of the Senate and House of Commons
of Canada, enacts as follows:


1. This Act may be cited as the National
Strategy for the Treatment of Autism Act.


2. The Minister of Health shall, before
December 31, 2006, convene a conference of
all provincial and territorial ministers responsible
for health for the purpose of working
together to develop a national strategy for the
treatment of autism. The Minister shall, before
December 31, 2007, table a report in both
Houses of Parliament specifying a plan of action
developed in collaboration with the provincial
and territorial ministers for the purpose of
implementing that strategy.


3. Section 2 of the Canada Health Act is
renumbered as subsection 2(1) and is
amended by adding the following:

(2) For the purposes of this Act, services
that are medically necessary or required under
this Act include Applied Behavioural Analysis
(ABA) and Intensive Behavioural Intervention
(IBI) for persons suffering from Autism Spectrum

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