Anesthesiologist was 'touchy feely,' but didn't molest patients: lawyer

TORONTO – The use of a drug reported to cause sexual fantasies may help explain why 21 women are accusing a “touchy feely” anesthesiologist of molesting them during surgeries, the doctor’s lawyer said Tuesday.

Dr. George Doodnaught, 64, is on trial for 21 counts of sexual assault after each of those women reported that he kissed them, touched them inappropriately or put his genitals in their mouth while they were under conscious sedation, all but one during surgeries at North York General Hospital between 2006 and 2010.

He has pleaded not guilty.

His lawyer, Brian Greenspan, said during his closing arguments that the incidents simply didn’t happen. He is under no obligation to put forward a theory as to why all of those women report similar assaults, he just has to convince the judge there is a reasonable doubt that they happened.

But Greenspan pointed to a phenomenon that he said hasn’t been well studied surrounding the use of propofol. There are reports of sexual fantasies under sedation, he said, though never in these numbers and not focusing on the same physician.

These hallucinations may very well be happening elsewhere in the world, said Greenspan, but in Doodnaught’s case what caused the mass of women to come forward was public reports of his arrest, in which police urged any other victims to come forward.

“We don’t know where in the world there are another 10…1,000 or 10,000 complainants,” Greenspan said.

Ontario Superior Court Justice David McCombs, who is hearing the trial without a jury, said the fact that the women’s recollections are compromised by the sedation is what makes this case difficult.

Greenspan said he is not suggesting the women are lying, rather that they are mistaken about what happened to them. Doodnaught was known for his “tactile” and “touchy feely” technique, Greenspan said. The anesthesiologist would use a cloth to keep a patient’s lips moist during surgery, hold their hand and whisper assurances in their ear, he said.

Greenspan pointed to the allegations of one woman, who said she regained consciousness during surgery and felt Doodnaught’s penis in her hand. Greenspan said there is no way that could have happened given the way the woman was positioned during surgery.

He urged Ontario Superior Court Justice David McCombs to find that when one allegation falls, they all begin to crumble.

“If it didn’t occur in count one, it didn’t occur in count 11, something else caused these complainants to wrongly believe that something occurred which didn’t,” he said.

Certain movements that take place during surgeries “could so easily be misinterpreted in a state of clouded consciousness,” Greenspan said. Adjusting the position over the chest area of leads that monitor heart activity could be mistaken for a hand touching a breast, he suggested.

While Doodnaught held a patient’s hand under sedation, his fingers could be easily mistaken for a penis, Greenspan said.

One doctor reported hearing a patient say “take that out of my mouth” during her surgery, but the doctor “rightly assumed” she was referring to the cloth Doodnaught used to moisten a patient’s mouth or to an airway that was inserted, Greenspan said.

It is “simply impossible” that Doodnaught would have been able to assault 21 women undetected by anyone else in the operating rooms, he said.

There were 143 other people in the room during those 21 surgeries and none reported seeing evidence of sexual misconduct, Greenspan said.

“There’s scores of people who see nothing and hear nothing and we’re not talking about a hockey arena — we’re talking about an operating room and some of which are terribly small,” he said.

“One-hundred and forty-three people saw no evil, heard no evil. Not that they were trying to avoid seeing or hearing evil — there was no evil to be seen, no evil to be heard.”

The doctors who performed the surgeries didn’t report any suspicious movement by the patients or coming from behind the draping sheets during the surgeries.

The Crown is expected to present closing submissions Wednesday.