TORONTO — Lawyers for a Toronto anaesthesiologist jailed for sexually assaulting 21 sedated women during surgeries argue their client should be granted a new trial because the judge presiding over his case allegedly ignored evidence suggesting the assaults could not physically have been carried out unnoticed.
Dr. George Doodnaught, 67, is appealing his November 2013 conviction, for which he was sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
Doodnaught was found guilty of assaulting the women, who ranged from 25 to 75 years old, while they were semi-conscious at the North York General Hospital.
The trial judge found the anaesthesiologist had, among other things, inserted his penis into patients’ mouths, used some for masturbation, and sexually fondled others over a four-year period.
During trial, the defence argued that the women had hallucinated or misremembered the assaults as a result of the medication they were given, and that the crowded nature of the operating rooms made it impossible to commit such a crime unseen.
In his appeal, Doodnaught’s lawyers argue the trial judge overlooked any evidence that would challenge the reliability of the women’s testimony or the feasibility of the assaults.
“It is respectfully submitted that this case is overwhelming only if one presumes that the possibility of drug-induced dream-like states is impossible, as the trial judge did,” they wrote in a document laying out their case.
“By approaching the evidence in this manner, the trial judge failed to adequately consider the defence submission that a significant proportion, indeed the majority, of the alleged incidents were impossible.”
They cite, in one example, the judge’s finding that a surgical drape at the head of the operating table served as a shield that hid the assaults, noting the judge failed to address or consider the view from various points in the room.
When Doodnaught was convicted more than three years ago, the judge rejected the evidence of defence experts who suggested patients under conscious sedation could have hallucinated the sexual assaults, saying Crown evidence that such hallucinations are “virtually unheard of” was entitled to considerable weight.
The judge found the doctor’s physical proximity to patients during surgery didn’t draw suspicion because Doodnaught was known as a “touchy feely” doctor and often stroked a patient’s cheek or hair to soothe them during procedures.
“In several cases (Doodnaught) compounded his victims’ sense of violation and humiliation by manipulating them to try to make them believe they were somehow responsible — that they had initiated sexual contact or had engaged in sexually explicit conversations,” the trial judge said in his ruling.
Doodnaught applied for bail pending his appeal but was denied after a judge found he had little chance of having his conviction overturned and that releasing him would be against the public interest.
The doctor’s medical licence has been suspended but the College of Physicians and Surgeons still has to hold a disciplinary hearing which could lead to it being revoked. That won’t happen until the appeal, which is being heard in Toronto this week, is over.