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Toronto doctor guilty of molesting 21 women during surgery

Dr. George Doodnaught during his trial for sexually assaulting women while they were undergoing surgery. CITYNEWS/Marianne Boucher

A Toronto 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, had pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting each of the women.

Ten 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.”

The assaults reported by all the women were similar, generally involving a combination of Doodnaught kissing them, fondling their breasts and putting his penis in their mouth or hand while they were under conscious sedation.

All but one occurred during surgeries at North York General Hospital in Toronto between 2006 and 2010.

“Words cannot begin to describe how sorry I am for the profound impact that these crimes have had on the lives of these patients,” said the hospital’s president and CEO Tim Rutledge on Tuesday afternoon. “We have repeatedly asked ourselves how this could have happened.

“That he did this in an operating room, a place of ultimate trust is difficult to understand and frankly shocking…This should not have happened and on behalf of the hospital I sincerely apologize.”

Rutledge said Doodnaught has not worked at the hospital since 2010 when he was ordered to take a leave of absence and that he “will not be working at this hospital again.”

It’s now up to the College of Physicians and Surgeons to decide whether to revoke his medical licence, Rutledge added.

Rutledge also said North York General Hospital has reviewed and strengthened how they address patient complaints by installing software that tracks patient complaints.

On Tuesday morning, Judge David McCombs found Doodnaught’s guilt on all counts “overwhelming.”

He noted the women did not know each other and were unaware of the particulars of the other patients’ stories when they separately came forward.

The sedation no doubt affected the ability of the women to accurately perceive and remember events, McCombs said.

“However, I have found that they were conscious and aware during significant parts of their surgeries and were able to recall these shocking and abhorrent events.”

The judge rejected the evidence of defence experts who suggested 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 “vanishingly 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.

McCombs also dismissed the defence position that Doodnaught would not have had the opportunity to molest the patients.

He 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.

Doodnaught’s lawyer Brian Greenspan said his client is “very disappointed” by the verdict and may decide to appeal.

“It will take some time for him to review the judgment as well, provide us with instruction and consider what his position is and the position of his family,” he said outside court.

Doodnaught will remain free on bail until his sentencing.

A date for sentencing arguments is to be set Dec. 13.

Walking out of the courthouse with his attorney following the verdict, Doodnaught refused to answer questions.