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.

One thought on “Statement from Kristine Cowley

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: