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David Hoffman Launches the Healthcare Proxy Helpline

Bioethics Lecturer David Hoffman, JD recently launched a program that allows Columbia Bioethics master's students, alumni, and other trained bioethicists to help people in need of guidance in preparing and executing a healthcare proxy (HCP) during the COVID-19 pandemic by volunteering with the Health Care Proxy Helpline as an Advance Directive Advocate. 

This project enables individuals to execute and have witnessed an HCP by audio-video means under authorization granted by the New York State Governor’s executive order 202.14. The inaugural group of past and present students who have volunteered for this project are giving new meaning to the idea of health law and clinical bioethics as a tool for improving people’s lives during these extraordinary times.

The project is being led by three M.S. in Bioethics alumni: Sarah Kiskadden-Bechtel, Karin Sobeck, and Dhaval Khamar. 

Kiskadden-Bechtel, who is Program Director of the Completed Life Initiative, said of the effort, "The Healthcare Proxy Helpline responds directly to New Yorkers' concerns about COVID-19. The Completed Life Initiative enlisted 30 Advance Directive Advocates as bioethics practitioners to serve as electronic video witnesses for individuals completing their healthcare proxy forms. Our Advocates also volunteer their time to answer questions that arise about the purpose of the Proxy Form, and answer questions regarding 'What should I consider when documenting my wishes?' and 'How do I make sure that my physician and medical care team will honor my wishes via proxy?'" She wrote further about the helpline here.

Given her extensive clinical experience, Karin Sobeck helped to lead training for the Advocates. "I chose to be involved in the Health Care Proxy Helpline because I have seen the anguish on family member's faces when asked to make decisions for a loved one without knowing what their choice would have been.  These situations frequently come without warning in Emergency Rooms and ICUs across the country," said Sobeck. 

Dhaval Khamar has been the Helpline's Program Assistant, coordinating a seamless technical infrastructure for the Advocates and clientele. "It’s an honor to be the Healthcare Proxy Helpline’s Program Assistant. Having had family members go through difficult medical situations, advanced care planning has always been important to me. Now more than ever I think it’s critical for people to designate a health care proxy, and it’s incredibly exciting to be a part of a new way of helping people fill out these important documents," said Khamar. 

This group created a training program for all the current advocates and continue to seek additional volunteers. The group is also advocating for legislation to authorize audio-video witnessing of health care proxies even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.  

The Healthcare Proxy Helpline is a joint collaboration between End of Life Choices New York and The Completed Life Initiative. The project is supported by a grant from the Completed Life Initiative, where Hoffman serves on the Board of Directors. Read more about the helpline here