Doctor C Everett Koop: Surgeon General who angered US conservatives with his stance on abortion and Aids

 

Dr C Everett Koop, who died on 25 February at the age of 96, was a leading US health official throughout much of the 1980s who spoke frankly about Aids and railed against smoking. An evangelical Christian, Koop shocked his conservative supporters when he endorsed condoms and sex education to stop the spread of Aids. He was surgeon general for seven years during the Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush administrations. He carried out a crusade to end smoking in the US.

A former pipe smoker, he said cigarettes were as addictive as heroin and cocaine. In 1996 he criticised the Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole for suggesting that tobacco is not invariably addictive, saying his comments “either exposed his abysmal lack of knowledge of nicotine addiction or his blind support of the tobacco industry.” Although Koop eventually won wide respect with his blend of old-fashioned values, pragmatism and empathy, his nomination in 1981 met a wall of opposition from women's groups and liberal politicians.

Critics said Reagan selected Koop, a paediatric surgeon, only because of his conservative views, especially his opposition to abortion. They noted that he had travelled the country in 1979 and 1980 giving speeches that predicted a progression “from liberalised abortion to infanticide to passive euthanasia to active euthanasia, indeed to the very beginnings of the political climate that led to Auschwitz, Dachau and Belsen.”

But Koop, a devout Presbyterian, was confirmed after he told a Senate panel he would not use the post to promote his religious ideology, and he kept his word. In 1986 he issued a frank report on Aids, urging the use of condoms. He also maneouvred around uncooperative Reagan administration officials in 1988 to send an educational Aids pamphlet to more than 100 million US households, the largest public health mailing ever carried out.

Koop opposed homosexuality and sex outside marriage, but he insisted that Americans, especially young people, must not die because they were deprived of explicit information about how the HIV virus was transmitted. He became a hero to Aids activists, who chanted “Koop, Koop” at his appearances but booed other officials. He further angered conservatives by refusing to issue a report requested by the Reagan White House, saying he could not find enough scientific evidence to determine whether abortion has harmful psychological effects on women.

Yet he maintained his personal opposition to abortion, telling medical students after he left office that it violated their Hippocratic oath. In 2009 he wrote to the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging that healthcare legislation include a provision to ensure that doctors and medical students would not be forced to perform abortions.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Portfolio Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has become known a...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer - Midlands

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Recruitment Genius: Sales / Account Manager

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales / Account Manager is re...

Ashdown Group: Application Developer - C#.Net, ASP.Net - Cambridgeshire

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Software Application Developer (C# & ASP.Net, SQL S...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot