Maryland Carey Law celebrated the investiture of Diane E. Hoffmann, JD, director of the Law & Health Care Program as the first Jacob A. France Professor of Health Care Law on November 10.
Hoffmann has served on the faculty at Maryland Carey Law since 1987, teaching and conducting research on issues at the intersection of law, health care, ethics and public policy. The Law & Health Care Program has achieved top national ranking under her watch.
“Today, we have the opportunity to celebrate Diane Hoffmann’s scholarly achievement, her strong dedication to teaching and to our students, and her deep commitment to the institution,” said Dean Donald Tobin, JD, as he addressed the faculty, students and staff of the Law School as well as friends of the Law & Health Care Program, all of whom had gathered to hear Hoffmann’s remarks at the investiture.
Tobin shared comments from Hoffmann’s students about her teaching and listed the many varied topics that Hofmann’s scholarship has touched on. Before turning the podium over to Hoffmann, he thanked the France-Merrick Foundation for making this possible.
France, Tobin noted, was a founding director of The Equitable Trust Company and served as chair of the company’s board from 1929 until his death in 1962. He established the Jacob and Annita France Foundation in 1959, and served as president until his death, when he was succeeded by his wife, Annita. The France Foundation – now the France-Merrick Foundation – established the Jacob A. France Professorships in December 1983.
At her investiture, Hoffmann started off her remarks by sharing with the audience that health law was just beginning to develop when she joined the law school nearly 30 years ago. “For someone just starting out her career in health law, there was a lot of unexplored territory and it was a time of excitement and many new developments,” she said.
She then turned to describe the evolution of her scholarship from end of life care to the Human Microbiome Project. Hoffmann explained that when she started at the law school she had two additional appointments. One was with the campus’ Geriatrics and Gerontology Education and Research Program and the other with the Maryland Biotechnology Institute’s Program on Public Issues in Biotechnology. These two initiatives shaped her research for years to come.
At the time she came to the law school, advance directives and the idea of informed consent had revolutionized health care, replacing “decades of physician paternalism,” Hoffmann said. “Patients repositioned themselves as consumers of health care, entitled to make decisions about what was done to their bodies.”
This also coincided with a time when medical technologies began to keep people alive longer. The 1950s saw the rapid development of mechanical ventilators. In the 1960s, total parenteral nutrition was introduced. These factors “created a perfect storm” for conflicts between patients (or, more often, their family members) and their health care providers over terminating life-sustaining treatment. Hoffmann was instrumental in working with others to craft the Maryland Health Care Decisions Act.
The act provided a framework for advance directives and the procedure for families to refuse life-sustaining treatments on behalf of patients who were terminally ill, in a persistent vegetative state or at the end stages of a chronic illness. In the decades that followed, Hoffmann undertook empirical research to study the new law and its effectiveness, including research that found the statutory forms for establishing advance directives too confusing.
Her work also examined the “serious and under-recognized public health crisis of chronic pain” in the infancy of the powerful opioid OxyContin, she said. Her scholarship ranged from insurance coverage of the drugs to how laws regulating the prescribing of opioids may have limited access to treatment for chronic pain patients.
At the same time Hoffmann was examining legal mechanisms for patients to refuse to be treated with certain technologies, she also was pursuing the second pillar of her scholarship -- the regulation of the developing field of genetic engineering, rules intended to protect the environment and human health.
More recently, Hoffmann has been writing about legal issues arising as a result of the Human Microbiome Project. The Human Microbiome Project is a follow-up to the Human Genome Project, this time examining the genomics of the microbes that live on and in the human body, and their interaction with human genes. She has partnered with faculty at the Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy in examining the regulation of probiotics and microbiota transplants, both with National Institutes of Health funding.
“My time at the law school has enabled me to think about and, in some cases, influence and shape laws and policies in a way that I hope they can better serve people at the end of their life, when they have chronic pain or are suffering from other illnesses,” Hoffmann said. “And for this I feel very grateful and fortunate.”