Husband in legal limbo after watching wife who was denied medically assisted death kill herself

It was tough news to take for David Dunn when he found out his wife had planned to take her own life.

Decision expected by July 18 on whether David Dunn will be charged for being present when his wife died

Cecilia Chmura and husband David Dunn used to enjoy nature and canoe trips. (Submitted by David Dunn)

David Dunn knew his wife, Cecilia Bernadette Chmura, 59, had suffered from unbearable fibromyalgia pain for more than 20 years and that she planned to kill herself after being denied medical assistance in dying.

He and their children even knew that it was going to happen on Jan. 18, 2018, in their Saskatoon apartment.

But it wasn't until Dunn heard the buzzing of a coffee grinder as Chmura crushed up her pain pills in the next room that the reality hit him.

"I mean, this was my soulmate that I had known since we were 14 years old. And so I was in disbelief. I don't want you to die," Dunn told CBC News Monday.

Cecilia Chmura and David Dunn were married for more than 30 years. (Submitted by David Dunn)

Chmura came to their bedroom after downing the crushed pills and lay in bed with Dunn for about two hours before she stopped breathing. About 10 minutes later, he called 911 and met paramedics at the door armed with do not resuscitate papers signed by Chmura.

Into police custody

He wasn't surprised when police arrived and took him into custody for questioning. He was released from custody that night.

Police told him the case is now in the hands of prosecutors, who have six months from the date Chmura died to lay charges. A decision is expected before the six months are up on July 18.

"I, of course, had nothing to do with it, other than holding her," he said.

David Dunn says Cecilia Chmura was the caregiver in the family, giving to a fault. (Submitted by David Dunn)

Chmura had originally come up with a plan that would avoid any legal risk for Dunn. She would go to a motel by herself for her final act.

"I said 'of course not, you're not going to do that. I'm not going to allow you to die alone,'" he said.

"How could you live with yourself after that?"

More than a decade of pain

What Chmura had been living with up until Jan. 18, was pain that migrated all over her body like "arthritis of the muscles," Dunn said.

For the past 10 or 15 years of her 30-year marriage to Dunn, the fibromyalgia took over her life. She could no longer pursue her love of canoeing and disappearing up the Churchill River for weeks at a time with Dunn.

Chmura had been prescribed morphine and medical marijuana, but did not like how loopy they made her feel, Dunn said. To him, the fact that Chmura's pain overrode the deep love she felt for her children and grandchildren is how he knew she was serious about pursuing a medically assisted death.

"That's why she decided to end her life, because the pain was just too great and the quality of life was just too poor," Dunn said.

Doctor-assisted death denied

However, despite half a dozen appointments with psychiatrists and others who deemed Chmura as having a sound enough mind to make the decision to be in hospital and have a doctor administer a fatal drug, she was denied in the fall of 2017.

She didn't check off one box in the federal government's medical assistance in dying criteria, which requires that the person "be at a point where your natural death has become reasonably foreseeable."

Because her death was not imminent within the next six months, she was denied, Dunn said.

Legally, Dunn said, he had to be at arms-length throughout the process, which left Chmura to the uncertain task of ending her life. The uncertainty included not knowing if the amount of pills she took would be enough. His presence in the apartment introduced the potential criminal element.

David Dunn said his cellphone was held while he was speaking to police. As soon as he got it back he called their children to let them know about Chmura's death. (Submitted by David Dunn)

Dunn said the medical assistance in dying process failed his wife.

These days, he is seeing a counsellor, mourning, and trying to find a way to live with losing his wife.

Saskatoon police told CBC that officers deemed the death non-suspicious.

Dunn was taken into headquarters in order to get a statement at a location removed from the scene of the death. In the cases of sudden deaths officers are trained to preserve the scene, Saskatoon police said in an email.

With files from the CBC's Victoria Dinh