Statement from Kristine Cowley

Statement provided 24 November 2020 ahead of Report 4 submitted to the House of Commons on 25 November 2020. Coverage of this statement and others can be seen here.

Hello. I sustained a SCI in 1987 at the age of 20. After my injury I received three months in-hospital rehabilitation where I learned how to navigate the world as a person with tetraplegia, including how to manage all the altered physical functioning that comes with it. I was considered a model patient, returning to university while still in hospital. I had the support of dozens of friends and family, and still do today. I left hospital, continued University, and began training to compete in WC track. This then led to three medals and 2 world records in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics. I returned to Winnipeg, got married and changed my name from Harder to Cowley, and took up my PhD studies, attaining a doctorate in 1998. I became a mother of twins in 1999 with a third child in 2001. I have travelled professionally and with my family throughout North America and Europe, I hand-cycle extensively, including completing at least one marathon every year since 2007. To all outward appearances, I am a  ‘successful’ person living and contributing to our community.

But I’d be lying if I told you I had never thought about killing myself when first injured. And I’d also be lying if I told you that I was good to go within 3 months of my injury when I was discharged from the hospital. In fact, it was a few years before I was able to open my eyes in the morning and feel good.

However, today, I will tell you that my quality of life is excellent. I wake up in the morning thinking about what I am going to accomplish today. I live a fulfilled life. One of the problems with Bill C7 is that currently it does not have safeguards in place to protect people from making not only an ‘un-informed’ but an ‘un-experienced’ decision about dying in the early stages after a severe neurological impairment. It is insufficient to be offered counselling or supports. It was necessary for me to become reintegrated in community life. Lastly, one of the reasons I didn’t seriously pursue suicide in the first five years after my injury was because it wasn’t offered to me as a ‘medical choice’. Had it been, I might not be here today. 

Amending bill C7 with more appropriate safeguards will ensure people are not lost before they can have an opportunity to live in the community with a disability.

Kristine Cowley is a person with 33 years living with a spinal cord injury. She has a doctorate in neurophysiology and is an assistant professor and Director of the Spinal Cord Research Centre at the University of Manitoba. She is a former wheelchair track Paralympian, current member of several community-based boards of non-profit charitable organizations with missions to improve life quality and health of persons living with disability. She lives in Winnipeg with her spouse and three children.

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