Helling V. Carey
1. Introduction Rarely any physician intends to harm patients when he or she provides treatment to them. Patients see physicians and specialists in full faith that they will get help with a condition. What complicates the patient-doctor relationship is that the outcome of each patient’s treatment is different because of individual health conditions and the course of treatment chosen by the doctor. Problems arise when a patient is not satisfied with care provided by the doctor or in extreme cases when a patient dies. Since most of the time it is hard to clearly determine whether the outcome was solely a result of the course of treatment chosen by the doctor or whether other factors played a role too, quite often patients take their grievances to court to seek justice. What makes these kind of cases complicated is the “What would have been if…?” scenarios where one can only guess what the outcome of the treatment would have been had a different course of treatment been chosen because the proximate causes of injuries are not easy to determine. Historically it has been the state legislature’s responsibility to establish, implement and regulate the medical tort system and laws and guidelines related to them (Conover, Zeitler, p.1). There is, however, a potential hazard of the judiciary getting involved in establishing medical standards of care based on facts of a single case rather than on the standards of the profession (King, p.1236-37). In a sense, the issue is approached from a semantic and factual rather than medical standpoint. Helling v. Carey is a good example of such a case which excited considerable comment in the medical and legal fields. In the final analysis the case is considered unique and controversial mainly because the court dismissed the standards of medical profession and imposed its own standard in the field. Most states, however, have largely rejected the medical custom and have adopted the standard of a reasonably prudent physician.
Cited: 1. J. Stuart Showalter, The Law of Healthcare Administration (6th ed. 2011)
15. Judge Utter, Supreme Court Of Washington: Harris v. Groth
99 Wn.2d 438 (1983); 663 P.2d 113, available at