TORONTO — An anesthesiologist accused of molesting 21 female patients during surgery was found guilty on all counts Tuesday. Dr. George Doodnaught, who was called a “sexual opportunist” by the Crown in the case, had pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting each of the women. The women reported that Doodnaught kissed them, touched them inappropriately or committed other sexual acts while they were under conscious sedation — all but one during surgeries at a Toronto hospital between 2006 and 2010.
Some of Doodnaught’s victims were in the packed courtroom as the verdict was read, and some people could be heard sighing with relief or whispering “Yes.” Judge David McCombs found Doodnaught’s guilt on all counts “overwhelming.” The defence had argued that at least some of the assaults would have been physically impossible as described, but the judge rejected that argument. He also dismissed the defence position that Doodnaught would not have had the opportunity to molest the patients.
McCombs noted Doodnaught had worked at North York General Hospital for 26 years. He knew when it was safe “to commit the relatively brief assaults without being seen,” McCombs wrote.
“His patients…were sedated, passive and disinhibited,” the judge found.
“He had control over their level of anesthesia and would have known that they could not openly resist. He relied on the amnesiac effects of the drugs to shield him from complaints. He was also known as being “touchy feely,” McCombs noted.
“His approach, particularly with female patients, was to soothe them by speaking softly to them and often by stroking their cheek or their hair,” McCombs wrote in his decision.
“Because he was known for his caring approach, OR staff did not consider it unusual for him to be in very close physical proximity to sedated patients under his care.”
The height and width of surgical draping would have rendered it “difficult if not impossible” for others in the operating room to see what the anesthetist was doing, McCombs found. The judge rejected the evidence of defence experts who suggested the patients under conscious sedation could have hallucinated the sexual assaults. He said Crown evidence that such hallucinations are “virtually unheard of” is entitled to considerable weight.
Dr. George Mashour, an anesthetist who has researched awareness of patients during conscious sedation, said that while sexual hallucinations with the drugs Doodnaught used have been reported, they’re very rare and only occurred with much higher dosages than Doodnaught used, McCombs wrote. Mashour testified that the odds are “extremely rare” that the drugs caused the patients to believe they were molested. If the drugs were to blame, he testified, he wouldn’t expect them all to relate to a single doctor.
This so-called doctor was a sexual predator who preyed on vulnerable, helpless women and was very lucky that none of them bit down while under sedation. It has been known to happen.