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I was writing speeches for Canada’s health minister in 2006 when my desk phone rang.

The woman calling was named Michelle Dawson: she was an advocate for people with autism. Actually, she explained, she was a person with autism, and was dedicated to researching the neurological condition.

“Please,” she asked plaintively. “Please stop including the words, ‘We will find a cure for autism’ or ‘We will put an end to autism’ in the minister’s speeches.

“We do not need to be cured. We certainly don’t want to be ended. Every time the minister uses those words, he is saying to those of us with autism that Canada needs a cure for us, or we need to be ended. We don’t feel that way.”

Dawson blew my mind. For starters, not a lot of human beings would think to track down a minister’s speechwriter to provide feedback. She must be a very smart and persistent person, I thought.

Second, having been provided that particular key message to include in the minister’s speeches, I never really questioned it; I just reiterated it. I hadn’t tested the message by running it by a room full of people with autism. Nobody had, obviously.

The positive outcome of this story is that I stopped writing those words into Minister Tony Clement’s speeches. I also briefed him on why he had to stop using those words. He concurred completely.

Further, he was able to invite Dawson to speak at a symposium on autism, which was probably one the best and fastest examples of “stakeholder involvement” I’ve ever witnessed in politics.

Reading this week’s headlines about an Alberta court’s decision that a 27-year-old woman with autism can access Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), I can’t help wondering what Dawson is thinking now.

The young Alberta woman, referred to as M.V., wants the Canadian government to help her commit suicide. Her father, W.V., does not want this to happen. Justice Colin Feasby stated in a decision issued this week that her “dignity and right to self-determination outweighs the important matters raised by (the father) and the harm that he will suffer in losing (his daughter).”

I cannot even try to imagine the thoughts that are going through the minds of M.V., W.V., or even Feasby.

However, I worry a lot about the thoughts whirling through the minds of millions of people with autism – people like Dawson, who are brilliant and articulate and dedicated to their fields, working endlessly to improve life for other people.

What is the key message the court is sending to those people – people with autism who don’t need to be cured and certainly don’t want to be gone?

To date, M.V. has provided no medical reason for choosing MAID; Feasby, one might presume, is okay with this.

Father W.V. is not okay with this. People with autism and the loved ones of people with autism are probably horrified at the implications of this.

Will autism now be, in and of itself, without extenuating medical conditions, a reason to allow the government to assist a person’s suicide? How could this possibly be acceptable to Canadians? And, even more distressing to consider, what comes next?

I asked Autism Canada for its view of this case.

“We have no position on this matter at the moment,” came the shocking reply.

A Hindu friend – himself supporting one adult son with Down syndrome and another with schizophrenia – called me to confirm that the news story he’d read about M.V. and government-aided suicide was real. Sadly, I told him it was true.

“My God, what is going on in Canada? It’s full-blown Kali Yuga,” he said, referring to the period of chaos, calamity and evil his faith believes will lead to the end of humanity as we know it.

“I would not have thought of that,” I sighed ruefully, recalling Dawson’s spirit of pure optimism in calling up the Canadian health minister’s office nearly twenty years ago.

In 2024, would Canada refer her to MAID?  

If it’s not Kali Yuga, it’s at least Cana-Yuga: the end of Canada as we know it.