Friday 28 February 2014

Doodnaught not first Canadian doctor to rape his anesthetized patients


Tuesday’s sentencing of anaesthesiologist George Doodnaught--to a decade in jail for sexually assaulting 21 women under his care during surgery--should have been good news. But then I read this comment from the presiding judge, 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.”

Wait a minute, I thought. As Columbo might have said, one thing bothers me. With Google doing the legwork I discovered, though the judge was technically correct--there are no reported stories of an anaesthesiologist sexually assaulting his sedated patients—this has happened before, not long ago, and in my home town. It’s the story of the Montreal plastic surgeon who sexually assaulted his anesthetized patients, and was let off the hook because society doesn't believe the victims.

In April 1995, Quebec’s College of Physicians found Dr. Marc Bissonnette guilty of sexual assaulting a female patient who was under anesthetic on the operating table in his clinic. The assault had been witnessed by her mother and aunt who testified in the criminal trial they had gone to the plastic surgery clinic on July 6, 1993 to take the woman home following a breast implant replacement operation. Finding the door locked, they gazed through the partly shaded window which gave onto the ground-floor operating room. They testified they saw the doctor exposing his penis, then having sex with their unconscious daughter/niece.

Unfortunately, the Quebec Court Judge hearing the criminal case, Pierre Brassard, rejected the mother’s and aunt’s testimony, citing inconsistencies. He opted instead for Dr. Bissonnette's version: that the patient pursued him and managed to entice him into having sex with her right before her surgery.

Because, you know, preparing to have your breasts carved up is such a turn-on.

Apparently, Judge Brassard said the doctor could hardly be blamed for succumbing to the patient’s wiles, because she was that kind of woman: the kind of woman who testified that she had had sex with a bartender after knowing him for only a few months.

The judge’s comments astounded the women of Montreal, and the case kept on astounding.

Three months later, while making some repairs to his mother’s roof, Bissonnette fell and was partially paralyzed. He was so disgusted with the media by then that he forbade the hospital treating him to comment on his condition.

The College fined Bissonnette $6000 and suspended him from practice for two years.

By March 1996, his paralysis partially remitted, Bissonnette was again conducting surgery full-time, albeit from a wheelchair, this time at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital. “Before he was charged, he had an impeccable record,” said Dr. Pierre Masson, the hospital's director of professional services.

No use letting one small hitch spoil a perfect record.

The Crown appealed the criminal acquittal and lost. Both the College and the anaesthesiologist appealed the College disciplinary committee’s ruling. As a result, the fine was struck but the suspension extended to five years.

Fortunately (read unfortunately), Marc Bissonnette, like Doodnaught a true serial sexual predator, couldn’t help but continue preying upon those most vulnerable to him: his patients. And so, finally, following complaints in 2002 and 2003, he was banned for life from practicing medicine by Quebec’s College of Physicians in 2010.

Judge Brassard retired from the bench. In 2005, his son Alain, a well-known criminal lawyer, died in a car accident after going through a stop sign, bouncing off an oncoming car, and hitting a tree.

I have a daughter. And I like to think that, within her lifetime, sexual equality will wax as sexism wanes. But that will never happen if we don’t remember—and hold to account—the ones who cannot credit the words of those assaulted and victimized by sexual predators. And that is so whether the survivors are women or men, boys or girls. And whether the abusers are priests, colonels, university footballers, doctors, pig farmers, or judges.

Again and again, we are forced to endure those in positions of authority who hear reports of abusers's earliest misdeeds discounting the complainants--their stories have "inconsistencies," they wouldn't make good witnesses, they are young, powerless, poor, drug-addicted, or just plain flakey.  

They say justice is blind but we don't have to be.

Unfortunately, those who forget history--including the history of rapists and their survivors--condemn us all to repeat it.


  1. Thanks, Marijke. If you want to read more about the way these doctors are treated by the system, I just found this:

    [TORONTO - The presiding judge had just unwittingly demonstrated how someone like Dr. George Doodnaught could allegedly get away with a long reign of sexual assaults — because in our society, doctors are too often treated as gods.

    That old world deference to physicians was on ample display when Justice David McCombs not only rushed the Crown to accommodate the schedule of orthopedic surgeon Robert Brock, but even made an offer to have him spirited out of the courthouse so he could avoid the media.

    McCombs did everything but fetch the doctor a coffee. And this is the impartial judge who will decide a case where a once highly-respected anesthesiologist has pleaded not guilty to molesting 21 patients over four years?

    Brock is one of many physicians expected to testify at this lengthy trial. No doubt he’s a very important man — a surgeon with 35 years experience and a roster of patients — but like anyone summoned as a witness, he had to clear his schedule so he could testify. That’s his legal duty, no matter how unpleasant. And unpleasant it obviously appeared to be, because although he was being called by the prosecution, Crown attorney David Wright didn’t bother to hide his disapproval as he questioned why Brock did nothing after a tearful patient came forward with a complaint against Doodnaught.

    Brock had worked alongside the anesthesiologist for two decades at North York General Hospital, golfed with him socially and held him in high regard. So when the 62-year-old woman, who like all the complainants can’t be identified, told him that she had been fondled and kissed during her knee surgery in January 2010, the veteran surgeon didn’t believe a word.

    He didn’t note it on her chart, he didn’t initially report it to anyone, he didn’t fill out any form as per hospital protocol. As self-appointed judge and jury, Brock decided that it just didn’t happen and told her as much...]

  2. I have had the same experience. I was raped at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio U.S.A. and the local police let the hospital's own "police" do the investigation! I was the second to come forward and I have been told they found the doctor's semen on the table the first time around -- I suppose the case is even worse here, since even him leaving his DNA isn't enough proof!