Dr. George Doodnaught a prominent North York anesthesiologist is on trial for sexually assaulting 21 patients while unconscious and recovering from surgery.
Credits: Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun/QMI Agenc
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.
Wright asked why he was so sure that she'd hallucinated the whole event.
"We hear patients who have sensitivities to narcotics and they tell us many different things, sir," he explained to the prosecutor, barely concealing his distaste at the audacity of anyone questioning his judgment. "I did not consider it totally abnormal to hear that someone was having a dream."
The surgeon was asked if he was aware that according to his hospital's guidelines, such complaints are supposed to be met with a non-judgmental tone and immediately reported. He admitted being unfamiliar with the policy at the time. "I had a very strong understanding of what I thought had happened. I did not think something abnormal was going on."
Brock only reported the incident to the chief of surgery the following month after the hospital's CEO announced that an unnamed physician was under police investigation and staff were to come forward with anything unusual they may have noted.
Through his testimony, Brock looked like a man forced to take bitter medicine but he'd been assured it would all be over by the end of the morning. When that didn't seem probable, McCombs decided to continue through the usual lunch break for the doctor's sake -- even when the surgeon himself said he had cleared his calendar for the day.
But no, he was too important to inconvenience any more than necessary.
When defence lawyer Brian Greenspan completed his questioning and it was the Crown's turn to re-examine, the clearly irritated judge demanded to know how long he'd be with the doctor.
When Wright then exceeded his 10-minute estimate -- trust me, in court, nothing is ever completed when they predict -- McCombs proceeded to interrupt him and complain about how long he was taking.
Not surprisingly, the prosecutor decided to wind it up there.
If that weren't deferential enough, the Ontario Superior Court justice then decried the media for photographing the poor doctor the previous day outside the courthouse and then advised Brock to speak to the court officers for help "so you don't get scrummed out the door."
A personal V.I.P. escort? Just because he's a doctor?
Respect is one thing. Placing physicians on a pedestal above us all is something else entirely.