An anaesthesiologist convicted of sexually assaulting 21 sedated women as they underwent surgery was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Tuesday in what a judge described as a unique case.
Dr. George Doodnaught exploited the extraordinarily high degree of trust the patients placed in him and his conduct was "reprehensible in the extreme," said Ontario Superior Court Justice David McCombs.
"There are no reported Canadian cases in which an anaesthesiologist sexually assaulted sedated patients in an operating room during surgery," McCombs said.
When Doodnaught was convicted in November, McCombs found the doctor relied on his three decades of operating room experience to avoid detection as he kissed women, fondled their breasts and put his penis in their mouth or hand.
Doodnaught was known as a "touchy feely" doctor, often stroking a patient's cheek or hair to soothe them during surgery, so the judge found his physical proximity during surgery didn't arouse suspicion with other staff even as he sexually assaulted the women while concealed only by a surgical drape.
"The offender's moral blameworthiness is at the high end of the spectrum," McCombs said.
Many of Doodnaught's victims were in court on Tuesday and it was clearly an emotional day for them. Several wiped tears from their eyes as the judge read his sentencing reasons.
After the sentence was handed down, the victims waited in the courtroom to see Doodnaught led out in handcuffs — he had been on bail during the trial — and one woman clapped.
The victims did not know each other and were unaware of the particulars of other patients' stories when they separately came forward.
All but one of the assaults took place at the North York General Hospital in Toronto. They became more frequent until Doodnaught was caught, with the first six spread over three and a half years and 15 others in the last six months before he was stopped.