A coroner’s inquest into the death of an Victoria-area teen has been scheduled – a welcome move called for by both the teen’s parents and former B.C. representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.
Elliot Eurchuk’s parents, Brock Eurchuk and Rachel Staples, called for an inquest in July into the events that led to Elliot’s death, and learned Tuesday morning that one is going ahead.
“It is never a happy time when looking at failures and the reason for a death,” said Staples,”but we are comfortable with moving forward and peeling back the layers of the onion to explore and encourage policy changes, including prescribing policies, how schools deal with mental health and addiction and a lot of areas in between.”
Elliot was 16 years old when he died of an opioid overdose at his Oak Bay home on April 20. He battled drug dependency after he was prescribed opioids for four major surgeries in 2017, as a result of sports injuries. When his prescriptions of the highly addictive opioids ran out, he turned to street drugs.
“Our son had a physician-assisted opioid dependency,” said Eurchuk. “We had a boy in acute pain, who wasn’t sleeping. The support he was getting from the medical system was pain management in the form of opioids, instead of addressing his shoulder which needed immediate help. The system cultivated a dependence on opioids.”
After seeing the recommendations and action items that came out of the Vancouver Island Health Authority’s internal quality review conducted into the medical care Elliot received before he died, Turpel-Lafond added her voice to the call for a coroner’s inquest. As the former representative for children and youth, Turpel-Lafond said some of the most effective areas where change was made was when there was a coroner’s inquest.
“The biggest goal is to have a revamping of the B.C. Infants Act,” said Staples.
The Infants Act states that children under 19 years of age may consent to a medical treatment on their own as long as the health care provider is sure that the treatment is in the child’s best interest, and that the child understands the risks and benefits of the treatment.
“In instances of substance abuse, there is so much shame and stigma for the child, it is almost a reflex for them to hide it from their parents,” said Staples. “The act enables a child to exclude their parents from their care, at a time when they need their parents the most.”
Staples and her husband attempted to get access to Elliot’s health records after he had been in and out of hospital with serious infections. They were told that Elliot did not want them to know what was going on. Due to the Infants Act, doctors honoured Elliot’s wishes and told the parents nothing.
Elliot’s parents say they called for an inquiry to find out what systemic changes need to take place to prevent this from happening again. The intent is not to lay blame, they say, but to prevent other parents and families from having to endure the unnecessary and tragic death of a child.
The public inquest into Elliot’s death by BC Coroners Service begins June 17 at the University of Victoria.
The inquest will review the circumstances of Eurchuk’s death and explore whether there are opportunities for a jury to make recommendations that may prevent deaths in similar circumstances.
Presiding coroner Michael Egilson and a jury will hear evidence from witnesses under oath to determine the facts surrounding this death.
The BC Coroners Service is not a fault-finding agency and the jury must not make any finding of legal responsibility – it gathers the facts surrounding why a death took place in order to provide an independent service to the family, community, government agencies and other organizations.
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