Weldon Bona, advocate for assisted dying services, dies 'with a smile on his face'

Weldon Bona's last days were spent in a battle with the province's medically assistance in dying program after he was told his request for medically assisted death could not be met.

'He will be remembered for a long time, for his art, his spirit and his principles,' friend says

Weldon Bona, 62, was approved for medical assistance in dying, but at the end had to fight to find a health professional able to help him. (Submitted by Weldon Bona)

Weldon Bona was not a man who walked away from an injustice.

Bona, 62, had terminal cancer and died with medical assistance Friday evening. The news was posted publicly to his Facebook page

"Weldon Bona ended his life today with help from Medical Assistance in Dying and Dying with Dignity Canada," it read. "Peaceful, pain-free, and with a smile on his face, Weldon chose to die as he lived: fully, and on his terms."

His last days were spent in a battle with the province's medical assistance in dying program after he was told his request for medically assisted death could not be met. Nova Scotia only has 20 health professionals who provide the service, and none in Cape Breton.

Bona went public with his struggle.

It shouldn't be this difficult to die, he told CBC News. He said he wanted to speak up for others who may choose to die this way in the future. 

"This should never happen to anyone else," Bona said. "No one else should ever, ever, ever go through this."

Weldon Bona was well known in the Cape Breton arts community. He spent his last days in a battle to obtain medically assisted death. (Submitted by Clifford Paul)

An artist, author and entrepreneur, Bona was well known for his graphic design work in the arts and business sectors.

He produced posters and other images for Celtic Colours for many years.

Before his death, he was communications director for Unama'ki Institute of Natural Resources. The organization is the Mi'kmaq voice for natural resources and environmental concerns in Cape Breton.

In 1995, Bona launched the Culture and Heritage Advisory Group to connect Cape Breton artists. The organization promoted use of the internet to connect artists and craftspeople, and organized regular meetings for members throughout the island.

He invited family and friends to celebrate with him before he died, with a menu that included lobster.

'Incredible friend'

Kelley Edwards travelled to be with her friend of 30 years.

"He had to rally his last bit of strength to fight this. Even in his last days, it's important for him to know that no one else has to go through this," she said on her journey from Halifax to Cape Breton.

"He's been an incredible friend. I'm honoured to be involved with this. It's difficult of course. Nobody wants to lose their loved one, but the fact that I'm able to be with him and with our friends is very important," said Edwards, who works for CBC Nova Scotia.

She expected the gathering to be colourful.

"Oftentimes, we have a vigil around someone dying [in] their hospital room, it's quiet and it's solemn, and I can assure you that's not going to be the case when Weldon Bona goes," Edwards said.

"He's good host so he's arranged for a feast of eating. The breaking of bread and sharing of friends has always been very important to him, so he's arranged for one last feast. There'll be a lot of laughter and a lot of letting go."

'An amazing spirit'

Joella Foulds met Bona through the arts community about 30 years ago.

"He had an amazing spirit. He was a very principled person, he was a decisive person. He knew what he liked, he knew what he wanted, how he wanted to live his life," she said. "And he did that."

She said Bona was frustrated when his plans to end his life with medical assistance became so difficult.

Bona, who lived on the Bras d'Or Lake, was an artist who worked in many aspects of visual art. "He made his living as a graphic designer. He was also involved in the theatre community."

Bona set up one of the first professional theatre company in Cape Breton, called Dangerous Dreamers, Foulds said. 

"That's exactly what he was — a dangerous dreamer. He had a lot of different interests and a lot of different skills."

Advocate for the arts

She said Bona was a passionate advocate for the arts and artists.

"Instead of being peaceful at the very end, he has to fight. But in a way, he's fighting for the people of the future as well. Let the public know how difficult this has been for him so it won't happen to anybody else," she said.

"He was never just thinking about himself in anything he did. He was always trying to do better for society." 

Funny and sometimes quirky, he was a fun person to be around, she said.

"He was a very special person and he will be remembered for a long time, for his art, his spirit and his principles."