Meagan Gillmore

July 8, 2024

Meagan Gillmore

July 8, 2024

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Nearly every day for four years, I have thought about medical assistance in dying (MAiD).

As a journalist, I have reported on the expansion of what Canadian law calls medical assistance in dying since February 2020. I have interviewed physicians who support expanding eligibility for MAiD; I have spoken to physicians devoted to stopping the expansion – particularly for people with mental illnesses. I have talked to lawyers about the intricacies of constitutional law.

Most importantly, I have listened as disabled Canadians describe their fears about living in a country where their disability makes them eligible for MAiD. Some have told me why they are considering it. For all I know, some of these people later died by MAiD.

As a disabled Canadian, I understand this fear. I feel it. I have written thousands of words because of MAiD – and it has made me speechless with sorrow. It wakes me up in the middle of the night; it makes me cry in the middle of church services. I hesitate when friends and strangers ask about my job because of how uncomfortable MAiD is – and then I book appointments with pastors and counsellors to talk about working with death nearly every day.

Despite these contradictions, one thing has remained certain: medical assistance in dying reminds me why Jesus is worth loving.

Hope in life

The Heidelberg Catechism begins with an often-repeated question and answer.

What is your only comfort in life and death? the catechism asks. The response: That I am not my own, but I belong body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

“I have listened as disabled Canadians describe their fears about living in a country where their disability makes them eligible for MAiD.”

The churches of my childhood did not emphasize catechisms, but the truth of Jesus being our hope in death was impressed on me early and often. No extended family gathering could be complete without updates about which former church acquaintance had died; my parents intentionally took my siblings and I to church funerals when we were young to prepare us for when we would mourn relatives.

The resurrection of Jesus assures those who believe in Him that they too will rise in the new creation. This is why Paul told the Thessalonians that Christians do not grieve as those without hope, and why my brother includes the words “see you later” in social media tributes for our deceased Christian relatives.

MAiD is not only about the fear of death, though. As a reporter I often talk to people who, instead of being afraid of death, are afraid of life. I understand.

“What is your only comfort in life and death? the catechism asks. The response: That I am not my own, but I belong body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

When fears about living in Canada with a disability overwhelm me, I am learning to remember why Jesus is my hope in life. Jesus, I am learning, is perfectly generous in present in grief.

The perfect generosity of Jesus

When disabled Canadians talk about their fear of life, they often mention the sparse financial and social supports available for them. Steady employment remains elusive for many disabled Canadians, whether because of inaccessible workplaces, the reality of their disabilities, or a combination of both. Relying on social assistance guarantees living below the poverty line.

Receiving government support is an often tedious and impersonal process. It often means re-proving your disability. I received social assistance for most of my adult life. None of the workers knew me; I never got the impression they cared about me.

Jesus is incredibly different. First, He is generous – John wrote that from Jesus we have received “grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Scripture speaks often of God’s provision for His people. But God does not provide for us the way a government bureaucracy does: with limited resources, and limited knowledge of the recipients. When God provides, He does so with full understanding of our past, our present and our future. His care for us motivates His provision. As Jesus put it in the Sermon on the Mount, Christians are not to worry because God values us and knows what we need (see Matthew 6:25-34). Earlier, Jesus reminds His disciples that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). We do not need to convince God that our needs are real and important; He already knows what they are and how He is going to provide for them.

The presence of Jesus in grief

Here’s where I object: “What about when it doesn’t happen?” When monthly expenses exceed income; when diagnoses stay the same or worsen; when exclusion because of disability remains the norm – what about God’s provision then?

“Steady employment remains elusive for many disabled Canadians, whether because of inaccessible workplaces, the reality of their disabilities, or a combination of both. Relying on social assistance guarantees living below the poverty line.”

Scripture does not promise us escape from sorrow. Instead, we are promised the presence of Christ in the middle of sorrow. “In the world you will have tribulation,” Jesus told His disciples in John 16:33. “But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jesus promises that one day He will put an end to suffering – and that He will be with us during it.

Jesus declared that He was the resurrection and the life, after all, while visiting his friends who were mourning their brother’s death (see John 11:1-27). What does Jesus do shortly after making that announcement? He weeps at Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus did not just show Lazarus and his sisters that he loved them by raising Lazarus from the dead, or comforting them in their grief. He also showed His love by experiencing grief itself. Not long later, He would bear the sin and grief of all people on the cross.

MAiD has brought overwhelming grief.  The families and friends of the 44,958 people who have died by medical assistance in dying in Canada since 2016 have experienced it. And there is the grief of living in a country where it is easier to get approved for death because of your disability than receive the supports needed to live.

Christ provides hope for this life because He knows the despair and sorrow of life. He is a very present help n trouble, because He has experienced trouble.

Something about that Name

My paternal grandfather was a big lover of Southern Gospel music, particularly Bill and Gloria Gaither’s songs. Visits to their home often included watching another special where men in suits and women with bold makeup would sing about how they were so glad to be part of God’s family or how there was “Something About That Name,” by which they meant Jesus. I was too hung up on the clothes to think much of the words these people sang.

When my grandfather died in February 2021, I was in the middle of reporting on the government’s plans to allow medical assistance in dying for people whose deaths were not reasonably foreseeable. My grandfather had dementia, and I thought of him, and my late grandmother who had died of cancer in December 2018, often while I worked. Both would have been prime candidates for MAiD. I doubt it crossed their minds.

“MAiD has brought overwhelming grief.  The families and friends of the 44,958 people who have died by MAiD in Canada since 2016 have experienced it.”

A few days before my grandfather died in his sleep, a doctor asked him if he ever felt despair. According to my aunt, he quickly responded with clear confidence. He did not despair or worry, he said, because He knew that God was in control of His life and death. Days later, he died.

I grew up in the church, around songs and stories about Jesus, and sometimes He just faded into the background, like wall paint. I stopped noticing Him, or what makes Him special. MAiD has brought Him to the forefront, and made me notice how unique He is. No one else – not my closest friends, family and definitely not a government – knows what I need even when I don’t. And no one else can both overthrow the cause of pain and suffering and endure pain with me.

I think the Gaithers and my grandparents were right. There’s just something about His name.

About the Author:

Portrait of Meagan Gillmore, a professional journalist and writer. She writes about medical assistance in dying.
Portrait of Meagan Gillmore, a professional journalist and writer. She writes about medical assistance in dying.

About the Author:

Meagan Gillmore is a journalist in Ottawa and is the Ottawa reporter for the national news site Canadian Affairs. She has reported extensively on disability issues, as well as covering euthanasia and assisted-suicide news in Canada, including for The Walrus, TVO.org, Accessible Media Inc and Christianity Today. She received the 2023 Gary Corcoran Student Prize for Excellence in Reporting on Disability. You can follow her on X @meagangillmore.

Meagan Gillmore is a journalist in Ottawa and is the Ottawa reporter for the national news site Canadian Affairs. She has reported extensively on disability issues, as well as covering euthanasia and assisted-suicide news in Canada, including for The Walrus, TVO.org, Accessible Media Inc and Christianity Today. She received the 2023 Gary Corcoran Student Prize for Excellence in Reporting on Disability.