Cape Breton man sets time for medically assisted death after doctor is found

Friends and family of Weldon Bona, a terminally ill Cape Breton man, had to bypass Nova Scotia's medical assistance in dying program and seek out help from a national organization to find a doctor who would help him die.

Weldon Bona, 62, who is terminally ill with cancer, was told last week no doctor was available

Family and friends of Weldon Bona have been successful in finding a health-care professional to provide medically assisted death for the 62-year-old man, who has terminal cancer. (Submitted by Weldon Bona)

Weldon Bona now has a date and time for when he will die with medical assistance.

The 62-year-old Cape Breton man has terminal cancer. He had chosen a date to die, within a three-day range, but was told last week there was no doctor or nurse practitioner who could help.

There are fewer than 20 health professionals providing medically assisted deaths in Nova Scotia.

Friends and supporters rallied to find a health professional to help. They got assistance from Dying With Dignity, a national organization based in Ontario that provides support for people seeking medically assisted deaths.

'At peace' with the upcoming procedure

Bona said he's "at peace" and looking forward to the procedure, but he's frustrated by the delays.

"At the last moment ... when we think everything is set up, we find out, 'Oh, by the way, we can't do it, you got to wait.' I have to wait to die?" said Bona.

Bona told CBC News his decision to seek medically assisted death was made "a long, long time ago."

Weldon Bona says he's at peace and looking forward to the procedure. (Submitted by Clifford Paul)

He said he even set up a fund, in case he was forced to travel to Switzerland for the procedure.

"Every year, I would put money into, I called it my RESP — my retirement euthanasia savings plan," said Bona.

Medically assisted deaths were made legal in most of Canada in June 2016. Quebec legalized the practice in December 2015.

Help sought outside Nova Scotia

Kelley Edwards has been a close friend of Bona's for 30 years and will be there when he dies. She said the actual date and time is being kept private.

Edwards, who is a CBC employee in Halifax, said getting a date was a tremendous relief, and credited the work of Dying With Dignity.

"Some very lovely compassionate person there said 'OK, I know a doctor who's just recently moved to Nova Scotia who can do this, let me make a call,'" said Edwards.

"Basically, they go do in 12 hours what the ... [provincial medical assistance in dying] program wasn't willing to give us even in a week."

She said it shouldn't have been necessary to get Dying With Dignity's help.

"It's not something that should have happened. The thing that was supposed to be the easy part has not been the easy part. Because of his very tenacious support group getting this arranged, there is relief and we can now get on with his request," said Edwards.

Fight to live, fight to die

Edwards said it was cruel to make Bona use up his "last bit of strength" to fight for the right to have medically assisted death.

"It's hard enough that someone has to fight their own body, why do they have to fight bureaucracy?" said Edwards.

"This is the time they are supposed to be at ease, at peace. This is a time that was taken from Weldon, taken from his support system, when we should have been celebrating him and surrounding him."

Edwards said they are concerned about others in small communities throughout Nova Scotia who are facing similar struggles.

"If it is happening in Cape Breton, rest assured it is happening in any small place where there is an issue of doctors," she said.

"You have to have an advocate in everything, you have to have an advocate in your fight to live, and now to you have to have an advocate in your fight to die."

Tough to get assistance in Nova Scotia

Jim Cowan, a Dying With Dignity board member, said Nova Scotians and British Columbians seem to be having more difficulties accessing medically assisted deaths than in other parts of the country.

"If you have a right without reasonable access to that right, that's wrong. These are people who are critically ill, who are suffering," he told CBC's Information Morning.

"We understand that there is nobody on the island of Cape Breton who is a [medical assistance in dying] provider, so it does mean that health professionals will have to come from off the island to assess individuals in the first place and then administer medical assistance to qualified individuals."

Jim Cowan, former senator and chair of the Dying With Dignity Canada board, is calling on the federal government to amend its medical assistance in dying legislation. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Cowan said it's wrong to ask people to travel in these cases.

"They can't simply say, 'OK, I can't get it done in Yarmouth, so I'm going to hop in a car and drive to Truro,'" said Cowan. 

"They need, they have a right, to access their medical assistance in dying in a place of their own choosing. They shouldn't have to be transferred or to move, not only at expense, but at tremendous emotional toll."