N.S. man ready for medically assisted death — but there's no one to help him die

Weldon Bona has terminal cancer and was approved under Nova Scotia's medical assistance in dying (MAID) program last fall. Now he's ready to go — but there isn't anyone available to help him die.

Weldon Bona set date for his death before learning there are no clinicians in Cape Breton to provide service

Weldon Bona, 62, is terminally ill, and even though he was approved for medical assistance in dying, he cannot find anyone to help him. (Submitted by Weldon Bona)

A Cape Breton man's dying wish is being denied.

Weldon Bona, 62, has terminal cancer and was approved under Nova Scotia's medical assistance in dying (MAID) program last November.

Last week, he gave word that he was ready for help to die. But Bona, who lives in Sydney, found out there isn't anyone available to provide the service.

"When we think everything is set up, we find out, 'Oh, by the way, we can't do it when you've set your date, you've gotta wait,'" said Bona. "You gotta wait? You're telling me that I have to wait to die!"

When Bona learned his doctor was going to be out of town around his chosen date, he asked that another doctor or nurse practitioner be found to assist in his death. That hasn't happened.

His friends and family are frustrated and have made many calls to the MAID program.

"When Weldon first told me he wanted to end his life this way, it was a shock," said longtime friend Holley Grant.

"But as he pointed out to me, he was really happy with the decision, partly because he was in control. And now the control has been taken away from him," said Grant. "It seems to show a complete lack of respect for his wishes."

The Nova Scotia Health Authority said there are fewer than 20 physicians and nurse practitioners who offer this service, and none of the participating clinicians are located in Cape Breton.

As a result, the NSHA said they're not always able to accommodate specific requests.

Feast with friends planned

Bona has made plans for his final night — complete with a feast of eels, lobster and champagne.

He's gathered his friends and family and is at peace with his decision.

"I know my body and myself enough to know what its limits are and I'm ready to go," said Bona. "My friends are ready, I'm ready."

'No one else should ever go through this,' says cancer patient Weldon Bona 1:21

Another longtime friend, Dave Douglas, said after all the preparation they did in the fall, they were surprised when no one was available to help Bona.

"I guess that's a sign of it being a new program," said Douglas. "But we certainly didn't think at the 11th hour, we'd be thrown these curveballs.

"There's a lot of frustration and anguish, which is kind of the antithesis of what this whole MAID program is supposed to be."

More doctors needed to avoid 'crunches'

Medical assistance in dying became legal in Canada in June 2016.

Douglas said supporters have made contact with the national advocacy program Dying With Dignity, although he said they were of the understanding the MAID program was already in place for Bona.

Robyn MacQuarrie is one of the doctors who works in Nova Scotia's MAID program. An obstetrician, she regularly works out of an office in Bridgewater.

Robyn MacQuarrie is an obstetrician who also works in the MAID program. She says more physicians and nurse practitioners are needed to provide medical assistance in dying. (Robert Short/CBC)

"Nobody does MAID exclusively. We're doing it on top of the other roles that we have, which does sometimes get us into time crunches with patients and their needs," she said.

MacQuarrie said more physicians and nurse practitioners are needed to provide MAID.

"For me, it was a little bit of a moral imperative to say, 'I can help people in this role and there's a need,'" she said. "And I don't know that people understand how much there is a need."

Dying patient stressed

MacQuarrie said one of the biggest challenges is getting the available MAID providers to all areas across the province.

"It's really hard and we encourage our patients to be flexible with us," she said. "But I think the bigger message is the more MAID providers we have, the less likely we'd run into a situation where we can't meet somebody's emotional needs by giving them that date that they asked for."

Bona said it shouldn't be this difficult to die, and wants to speak up for others who may choose to die this way in the future.

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

About the Author

Norma Jean MacPhee

Reporter

From people around the corner to those around the world, Norma Jean MacPhee has more than a decade of experience telling their stories on the radio, TV and online. Reach Norma Jean at norma.jean.macphee@cbc.ca