moved that 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 Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to start off the second reading debate on this bill. Bill C-304 acknowledges the seriousness of this issue in this country. It clearly enunciates that we are talking about a health issue.
The bill has three provisions. We are asking the Minister of Health , acknowledging of course that this involves primarily provincial jurisdictions, to convene immediately a meeting with the 10 provincial and territorial health ministers to discuss this very issue. We are asking that the minister table before the end of 2007 a national strategy on the treatment of autism. We are also asking that the Canada Health Act be amended as follows:
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 Disorder.
Members will conclude from my remarks that the overarching issue I want to make in this debate is that we are talking about a health issue and that the treatment modalities that I refer to be made available to all residents of Canada pursuant to the provisions of the Canada Health Act.
Again, if it is a health issue, I would urge and ask all members in the House to support it. If members feel on the other hand it is not a health issue, then of course the bill is flawed and it is not worthy of support.
Bill C-304 does not stand alone. There is a whole array of extremely important bills and motions on this extremely important topic. I would suggest the debate is raging.
A similar bill was tabled by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, Bill C-210. Motion No. 172 introduced by the member for Fredericton calls for a national strategy. It calls for standards, surveillance, and research. That passed on December 5, 2006 with support from all four parties.
Ongoing as we speak are the hearings at the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology dealing with the funding of autism. I have seen the blues. There are very extensive hearings going on now. I expect sometime early in the new year there will be a report from that Senate committee.
There are numerous court cases that have been decided and there are numerous court cases being litigated as we speak right across this country.
I believe that colleagues on both sides of the House know, acknowledge and appreciate the seriousness of this issue.
I should point out also that the polling that has been done indicates that 84% of all residents of Canada support the concept that these treatment modalities should be financed under the provincial health care programs. About 84% of the constituents that we represent support the general thrust of this bill.
I am not an expert on the subject, but I do want to point out for the record that autism spectrum disorder is a complex developmental disorder. It affects people's ability to communicate, form relationships and react to their environments. It is caused by a neurological disorder that impedes normal brain development in the areas that affect social interaction and communication skills. It is a spectrum disorder.
The severity of the symptoms differs widely. Many people with ASD are perfectly capable of leading happy, healthy lives as functional members of society and require no treatment whatsoever. On the other hand, many people require very extensive treatment.
Within this spectrum, we include disorders such as pervasive development disorder, Rett syndrome, Asperger syndrome and child development disorder.
Tremendous changes are going on in society. At one time, going back 20 or 25 years ago, this was thought to be an extremely rare condition. I believe the numbers were 1 in 10,000. Now the most recent statistics that I have been given estimate that 1 in 167 children are affected by ASD. It affects four times as many boys as girls and is pervasive across all ethnicities and classes. We do not know the cause of the syndrome.
There is no definitive cure, however, in recent years a number of treatments have become available that can make a dramatic difference in the severity of the symptoms experienced by people with ASD. It is important to note that just as ASD affects individuals, in a vast array of ways, there is an extremely large range of support that is necessary for people affected by ASD. Some will need intensive help and constant supervision to get through the day, while others might simply need help with specific communication and social interaction skills.
The point I am making here today with this bill is effective treatment modalities exist.
The symptoms of ASD generally manifest themselves within the first three years of a child's life. It has been shown that when ASD is diagnosed early and the specific individual needs of the child are assessed and addressed, children with ASD can grow to exhibit much fewer or no symptoms.
There are two vital characteristics of this treatment, early diagnosis and consistent, long term care. We refer to these treatments as applied behavioural analysis and intensive behavioural intervention. These treatments include speech and language therapy. More important, ABA and IBI are designed to teach a child with autism a whole new way of learning. The treatment teaches them how to break down a task into its smallest components, and through constant, intensive reinforcement, to apply this method of thinking to everyday life as well as complex tasks.
Due to the intensity and time span of this treatment and the fact that it is almost exclusively conducted in a one on one environment, the treatment is costly; it is not cheap. When ABA or IBI are successfully applied, the changes in a child can be dramatic. There are stark differences as to the availability of this treatment across Canada. Some provinces offer it fairly generously. Some provinces include it in the social services or welfare envelope and it is means tested. We definitely have a two tier, or what I would perhaps better classify, a 13 tier health care system when we talk about the treatment of autism.
Again, it depends entirely on what province that particular child happens to be born in, and in some instances, the regions within the provinces where that child happens to live. For example, in Alberta, children have full access to treatment. In Ontario they have access up to a certain and I would argue arbitrary age at which time treatment is cut off. In other provinces, as I have stated, it is in the social services envelope. It is means tested and it is just not available in any way, shape or form the way it should be under our Canada Health Act.
As we go forward and we debate this bill, we as a society are judged on how we treat the most vulnerable among us. We owe it to all Canadians, all families dealing with this particular issue.
I realize that somebody will state that it is a provincial issue, but again we have the Canada Health Act. I realize we cannot dictate to the provincial health ministers, but we can come forward with a national strategy. We have to discuss it and debate it with the provincial ministers and we have to eventually amend the Canada Health Act so these children, these individuals, these families, can get the treatment that they deserve.
There is a national strategy with respect to cancer, diabetes and drugs. Why can we not have one for autism?
Again, I mention that it will not be cheap. It will cost a lot of money and the Government of Canada would have to pay its fair share. That will be one of the arguments from the provincial government. If they are being asked to do this, the federal government is going to have to pay its fair share.
However, on the other side of the coin, there are substantial and numerous benefits. A lot of individuals are not diagnosed early and do not receive the treatment to which they are entitled. They end up being institutionalized at considerable expense to society. The families have to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars treating these children with no reimbursement. The quality of life of the families suffers and, most important and tragic, the quality of life of the affected individuals suffers dramatically. We are judged on how we treat the most vulnerable among us, whether it is the disabled, sick, old, the infirm or people with autism.
I know people will say that it is a jurisdictional issue. I think I have dealt with that already. People will say that it costs money. Yes, it costs money, but cancer costs money, heart disease costs money, diabetes costs money. These are health issues. I go back to my original statement. If it is a health issue, let us move forward and deal with it. If it is not a health issue, let us put it to bed.
In conclusion, I ask every member of the House to do the right thing on this issue. I ask that we all show leadership. I ask members to vote for this bill and move forward on this issue as soon as possible.