Roger Morrison’s death leaves his brother with unanswered questions

By David F. Rooney

When Dr. Roger Morrison died on November 8 his older brother, John, fully expected there would be an autopsy to determine the real cause of death.

So imagine his shock and surprise when it didn’t happen.

“Local coroner Tim Loader (who actually works out of Golden) called me on the Sunday night (November 11) after Roger was deceased to inform me they were taking him to Vernon for ‘a complex in-depth autopsy’ given the circumstances and the horrific manner in which he was found,” John said in an interview last Sunday. “This complex autopsy is a more exhaustive one than the norm.”

Roger’s body, when it was discovered in the basement of his home, was covered in blood. The main arteries in his elbows were cut, his wrists were severed and he had a series of deep lateral slices across his chest.”

There were also indications, judging by the empty drug containers near his body, that the 50-year-old physician had taken epinephrine and an anticoagulant. Epinephrine would have greatly accelerated his heart rate while the anticoagulant would have stopped the blood from clotting in his wounds. Working together, those substances would have forced Roger to bleed out rapidly.

John said he was contacted on Monday (November 12) by Gary Sulz who told him that Regional Coroner Larry Marzinzik told Loader there was to be no autopsy.

“It went from ‘a full complex in-depth autopsy’ to none at all,” John said, adding that an autopsy would have determined if Roger was:

“A) coherent at the time of his death; and

“B) if he had steroids or medications in his system.”

He also believes that Roger would not have killed himself without first changing his will as “he was estranged from his fourth wife.”

And he contests rumours there was a suicide note.

John said the alleged discovery of a document on his computer may have played a role in the decision not to conduct an autopsy. But he’s not convinced the note — if in fact there really was one — was even written by his brother.

“I never saw any note whatsoever,” John said. “A mutual friend did get into Rogers computer at his wife’s request and he showed me what Roger had on that computer. There was no suicide note on that.”

If there was something found on his computer “it would have absolutely no validity as anyone may have written it.

Answers to questions like these may have gone a long way toward alleviating the anguish John Morrison feels about his younger brother’s death.

“He warranted an autopsy,” he said. “He was a doctor. He wasn’t some junkie shooting up behind the 7-11. What if an autopsy had shown there was foul play?”

But that was not to be. As a CBC News investigation showed, the BC Coroners’ Service has been so strapped for money since 2007 that it had quietly reduced the number of autopsies it performs. (Click here to read their report on the Roger Morrison case. Click here to read a related CBC story. And click here to read how BC has the lowest autopsy rate in Canada.)

MLA Norm Macdonald is bothered by the low number of autopsies.

“The fact that we’re not doing a proper investigations in cases like this  fact is troubling,” he said.

Of course, some of John’s questions may never be answered. The house where Roger died has been cleaned up and his body buried. Only an exhumation may reveal some answers.

Born and raised in Revelstoke, Roger Morrison was popular with his patients. However, he was also beset by his own inner demons. A body builder from an early age, Roger began using steroids, Human Growth Hormone and other substances to pump up his body.

He also had problems with alcohol and prescription drugs that exacerbated problems with his family relationships to the point that John and his wife, Shelley, stopped seeing him.

Roger’s behaviour also eventually compromised him professionally. In May 2009, the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons suspended him for 18 months after he used a patient’s identity and Care Card to obtain his own medical test results at a laboratory in Kamloops. He also admitted to using false identification on other occasions

In May 2010 the College put conditions on his medical license, including required counselling and supervision. He was also not allowed to prescribe certain drugs and he was still being monitored by the College when he died.

John, however, thinks those monitoring efforts were ineffectual. He also suspects that someone else may have been present when Roger died. He also asserts that Roger had told several people he had a vial of insulin that he would inject if he wanted to commit suicide. An insulin overdose would push him into a coma so why use a knife?

Ultimately, though, John’s questions may never be answered. That’s the difficult thing for John and Shelley.

They will have to live with this uncertainty and learn to accept the inadequacies of a system that chooses to forego an autopsy and fails to conduct a proper investigation under such circumstances.