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Touched by MS, foes lay politics aside Add to ...

Conservative MP Larry Miller had just finished speaking Monday night when NDP MP Malcolm Allen rose from his Commons seat, walked over and gave him a great big hug.

It was a remarkable gesture in a House that is so often filled with acrimony and dissent. But this was a remarkable debate - a so-called take-note debate - on a controversial new procedure to diagnose and treat multiple sclerosis.

"Those kinds of things don't happen in the House," Mr. Miller, the MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, said Tuesday.

But Mr. Allen (pictured), who lost his father to the disease, was moved by Mr. Miller's speech, in which he spoke of his youngest sister, Mary Lou, 45, who has suffered from MS for nearly 20 years.

There is a new hypothesis that MS is not an auto-immune disease but a condition caused by "chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency," or (CCSVI), which is the narrowing of veins that prevents the blood from draining from the brain efficiently.

The diagnosis and treatment for this is not performed in Canada and many MS sufferers have gone abroad to have it done - at great expense and with some positive results.

Earlier in the debate, Lethbridge Conservative MP Rick Casson was just barely able to hold on to his composure as he stood in his place to speak of 38-year-old daughter, who also has MS.

"I can put a personal touch on this," he said. "If I am going to recommend that my daughter takes a treatment of some kind, I want to make damned sure it will not kill her, cripple her or make her worse."

She was diagnosed five years ago; she has two children, is a teacher in Edmonton and is contemplating doing a PhD.

Mr. Casson describes her as "amazing." He wants to ensure that enough caution is used so that MS sufferers are not given false hope by this procedure. He notes, too, that not all MS sufferers would benefit from it.

There was no vote at the end of this debate.

Still, it gave MPs the opportunity to look at and debate the reluctance of governments to recognize, through funding, this new procedure.

Mr. Miller's sister, meanwhile, is to be tested soon to determine if she can have the treatment. If she can, Mr. Miller, says it is likely she will go try to go to New York to have the procedure done.

In fact, it was noted that some Canadians are travelling to Poland and other European cities, paying up to $10,000 to have the angioplasty procedure that opens up the neck veins.

Mr. Miller's sister was diagnosed with MS about nearly 20 years ago. Reports (first broadcast on CTV's W5) of the controversial procedure by Dr. Paolo Zamboni gave her "really the first ray of hope or sunshine that she has seen", he told the Globe in an interview Tuesday.

She wanted to try the procedure immediately.

"We want it to be a safe procedure … I'd like to see it here (in Canada)," he said. "If research and science shows that there is something wrong with it, then fine, we will accept that.

"But everything we have seen in Europe so far it looks very, very promising and I just want to see us piggy back on research that is already done and advance it from here," he said.

Last night, he spoke about the provincial and federal governments putting jurisdictional issues aside and working together on this.

As well, Mr. Miller, who does fundraising for MS, expressed disappointment with the MS Society, who he said, "has not yet taken an even broader approach to include more new treatment options that have shown promise, like CCSVI …"

Ms. Duncan, whose tenacity sparked the debate, says that at first there were some politics played last night over the role of the federal government in health issues.

But she said there was a real shift in the debate when "someone on the government side had the courage to say that we have responsibility here."

"It was really good," she said. "What we're fighting for is that these guys be able to have diagnoses and treatment in Canada. Why are they having to go overseas when everything is available here?"

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