TORONTO — A Canadian anesthesiologist convicted of sexually assaulting 21 sedated women during surgeries was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in prison.
Ontario Superior Court Justice David McCombs said Dr. George Doodnaught, 65, exploited the extraordinarily high degree of trust the patients placed in him and his conduct "did enormous damage and was reprehensible in the extreme."
"The profound psychological impact of the physical violations has been compounded by the victims' deep feelings of betrayal — that these offenses were committed during surgery, by a medical doctor, in an operating room, a place of ultimate vulnerability and trust," McCombs said in sentencing Doodnaught.
Many of Doodnaught's victims were in the courtroom and wiped tears from their eyes as the sentence was read. Their victim impact statements at an earlier sentencing hearing told of "debilitating" feelings of anger and bitterness, shame, panic attacks, loss of self-worth, distrust of doctors and an inability to form intimate relationships, McCombs said.
The judge said that 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."
Though Doodnaught was sentenced to 10 years, he may not spend much time in custody. Doodnaught intends to appeal his convictions, and the Court of Appeal for Ontario is set to hear an application Wednesday to let him out on bail pending the appeal.
One of his victims — the woman who sparked the investigation — clapped as he was led away in handcuffs. Outside court she said the prospect of more court hearings as Doodnaught proceeds with his appeal is "devastating," but she will keep attending and fighting to be heard.
"At this point I've come this far and I need to show my children how to do the right thing and how to stand up (against) what's wrong and this is so wrong on so many levels and I need to do that for them," she said with her husband by her side.
The woman, who can't be identified due to a publication ban, went in for a hysterectomy in 2010. During the surgery Doodnaught fondled her breasts, kissed her and put his penis in her mouth, the court found.
When she was in the recovery room, Doodnaught leaned in close to her and said, "As soon as you were out, the first thing you reached for was my...(penis)," the court found.
Doodnaught declined the opportunity to make a statement before he was sentenced.
Doodnaught's lawyer, Brian Greenspan, said his client was "disappointed" with the sentence.
"He continues to enjoy widespread support not only with his family but amongst his colleagues, patients," Greenspan said outside court.
When Doodnaught was convicted in November, McCombs found the doctor relied on his three decades of operating room experience to avoid detection as he sexually assaulted the sedated women while concealed only by a surgical drape from other medical staff.
The first six assaults were spread over 3 1/2 years and 15 others in the last six months before he was stopped.
All but one of the assaults happened at North York General Hospital in Toronto.
During his trial, most of the 21 victims, between the ages of 25 and 75, took the stand against Doodnaught.
They gave generally similar accounts of being kissed and fondled by him, and of having his penis placed in their mouths or hands. The women testified they were conscious enough to be aware of what was happening, but were not able to move their limbs.
An anesthesiologist since 1981, Doodnaught had worked at North York General for 28 years.