New & Notable: Anesthesiologist Abusing Sedated Patients

Until the Ontario Superior Court’s decision in R v Doodnaught, 2014 ONSC 1196, there have been no reported cases in Canada on sentencing of an anesthesiologist who sexually assaulted his sedated patients during various medical proceedings [para 26].

Doodnaught was convicted of sexually assaulting 21 female patients. The victims were between the ages of 25 to 75. The sexual acts perpetrated on them included kissing, fondling, and forced fellatio. Although three formal complainants were made during the time period in the indictment, Doodnaught had faced no repercussions; the effects of the anesthesia were blamed and Doodnaught denied the allegations. McCombs J found that the dismissal of these complaints emboldened Doodnaught and escalated the frequency of his crimes. In fact, in the ten days prior to his arrest, no less than four women were sexually assaulted; three of them by forced fellatio. 

McCombs J found held that “the power imbalance between” Doonaught “and his victims was absolute” [para 8]. Sedated but aware of what was happening to them, the impact on the victims has been devastating.   The victim impact statements described profound psychological effect, sexual dysfunction and a distrust of the medical profession [para 13].  

At the time of sentencing Doodnaught was 65 years old with no prior criminal record.  McCombs J held that the “court has a duty to send a clear message that reflects society’s abhorrence for the conduct, and serves as a deterrent to others in a position of trust who might be inclined to prey upon vulnerable, sedated patients” [para 29].

Doodnaught was sentenced to 10years.

In March of 2014 Doodnaught sought release pending the hearing of his appeal. The notice of appeal alleges some 100 errors by the trial judge - all of which challenge the correctness of the findings of fact [2014 ONCA 172 @paras 7-8].

The Crown argued that Doodnaught’s ongoing detention was necessary and in the public interest. LaForme JA agreed and noted the following:

(…) on the record before me, his grounds of appeal are weak and not likely to succeed, although some may be arguable.  In cases like this, the need for immediate enforcement of the judgment outweighs the need to review the decision. Release, therefore, would not be in the public interest [ONCA para 24].

Doodnaught submitted the same 49 letters of support that were filed on sentencing. The point was to illustrate that some small segment of the public believed in his innocence.  LaForme JA held that:

These opinions should be accorded little weight given that a contrary opinion is no doubt held by the 21 victims and their families and associates.  The letters thus do not assist very much in gauging the public interest in this case [ONCA para 19].