A 64-year old Toronto anaesthesiologist has been found guilty of all 21 counts of sexual assault against filed against him. The assaults occurred while the female victims were under conscious sedation, undergoing surgery.

Dr. George Doodnaught, was a practicing anaesthesiologist at Toronto’s North York General Hospital from 1981 until his arrest in 2010. He was charged with sexually assaulting 21 women while they were undergoing surgery for such matters as hysterectomies and hip replacements. These assaults took place between 2006 and 2010.

Doodnaught elected trial before a judge alone and last week Justice David McCombs handed down his decision; guilty on all 21 counts. McCombs described the evidence against the doctor as “overwhelming.” Ten of the 21 victims were present in the crowded courtroom when the decision was handed down.

While McCombs acknowledged the women were semi-conscious, he accepted their evidence of what took place. 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 justice also noted the 21 victims did not know each other and all came forward without knowledge of what the other victims had said.

The surgeries on the women, who ranged in age between 25 and 75, were performed when the patients were under conscious sedation. They were in a semi-conscious state where they could perceive what was happening around them but could not react.

The sexual assaults included kissing, fondling, and the doctor placing his penis in the patient’s hand or mouth.

During the surgeries, Doodnaught was separated from other doctors and nurses in the operating room by a sterile shield, separating the sterile part of the operating room from the remaining portion of the room. The justice rejected the defence argument that it was physically impossible for the anaesthesiologist to have committed the assaults without being noticed.

The defence argued the women who made the allegations were hallucinating about the assaults while in a state of conscious sedation. McCombs rejected this defence and relied on the evidence of Dr. George Mashour, an anaesthetist called by the Crown. Mashour had conducted research on the drugs used by Goodnaught.

According to Mashour, hallucinations rarely happen with drugs used to induce a semi-conscious state and when they do occur, it is when higher doses are used. Mashour also testified if hallucinations did occur, he wouldn’t expect them to relate only to a single doctor.

Shortly after the decision, Tim Rutledge, CEO of North York General Hospital, issued a statement that read, “Words cannot begin to describe how sorry I am for the profound impact that these crimes have had on the lives of these patients. 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 pointed out Doodnaught has not been working at the hospital since his arrest and will not work there again.

Doodnaught remains free on bail and is due back in court on Dec. 13 for sentencing. It is unknown at this time whether he will appeal his convictions.


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