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Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop Dead At 96

C. Everett Koop,who served as Surgeon General under both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, has died:

HANOVER, N.H. — C. Everett Koop, who raised the profile of the nation’s surgeon general by speaking frankly about AIDS and the dangers of smoking, has died in New Hampshire. He was 96.

An assistant at Koop’s Dartmouth institute, Susan Wills, says he died Monday. She hasn’t disclosed his cause of death.

Surgeons general before Koop were low-profile, but Koop operated from a bully pulpit for seven years during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidencies.

Of course, one reason that Koop attained such a high profile is the fact that he served as Surgeon General during the time when AIDS/HIV first came into public consciousness. More than any other Federal Government official, Koop stood utilized his office as a bully pulpit to educate the public about the disease, and to call for increased use of condoms and sex education, something which earned him the ire of many conservatives at the time. Koop also resisted efforts by some on the right to use his office to propagandize against abortion by claiming that it was detrimental to women’s health. This also earned him the ire of many on the right. Finally, Koop revived the practice of wearing the uniform assigned to the Surgeon General when performing his official duties, a practice that had fallen into disuse over the years. Since then, every Surgeon General has followed this practice.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    My condolences to his beard.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  2. He did try to bring that Amish-style beard into the mainstream but that didn’t quite catch on.

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  3. rudderpedals says:

    Did the medical alert pendent fail?

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  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    Koop was surgeon general when I was a small kid. To this day, I don’t care which surgeon general you are speaking of, its only his face (yeah, his beard) that I’m picturing.

    I didn’t know much about him in a historical context until his obit. Sounds like a pretty decent human being.

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  5. john personna says:

    A commendable age for someone who gave life-extension advice.

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  6. de stijl says:

    “For all the latest medical poop, call Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Poo-poo-pa-doop.”

    The Be Sharps episode of The Simpsons was pretty sublime.

    In another episode when Lisa was presenting her findings to a scientific conference on the Poindextrose chemical emitted by nerds as the cause of bullying, Koop was the one who said, “She’s a witch!” and later got whaled on by the bully test subject. Awesome.

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  7. Argon says:

    He was a very decent human being. Koop was one of the few in the Reagan administration to raise the profile of AIDS at a time when the rest of them tried to stick their heads in the sand and ignore the problem. He also refused to be pressured into creating a report that suggested abortions caused long-term or irreparable mental harm to women who had them. Instead, he followed the science where it lead despite his personal religious beliefs.

    Yes, his name was later associated with a crappy med-advice web site but when he recognized the problems, he couldn’t remove his name because of the stupid contact he’d signed. So, perhaps not the wisest businessman in the world but as a doctor and Surgeon General, he was a model to emulate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    A correction, Doug: Koop was staunchly and unapologetically pro-life. The “Koop Report” that claimed no long-term consequences for women who had abortions was prepared without his cooperation and released under his name against his choice. He spent years distancing himself from that report.

    And his confirmation hearings were quite contentious, with Democrats holding up his nomination for 11 months because of his positions on abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  9. matt bernius says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    And his confirmation hearings were quite contentious, with Democrats holding up his nomination for 11 months because of his positions on abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

    A sign that long running debates over cabinet positions are not a particularly new thing. Koop had made himself a bit of a lighting rod by making statements in numerous public speeches ‘ that predicted a progression “from liberalized 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.”‘ (source)

    The “Koop Report” that claimed no long-term consequences for women who had abortions was prepared without his cooperation and released under his name against his choice.

    This account is playing fast and loose with history. Koop appointed George Walter the task of researching and drafting the report. So claiming it was produced without Koop’s cooperation is already inaccurate. In fact, he helped review the scientific papers used in the report:

    Dr. Koop acknowledged that he and George Walter, an assistant who drafted the report, had reviewed most of those studies without sending them to other scientists. But he said he and Mr. Walter were qualified to do the reviews with occasional telephone consultation with others.
    (source: http://www.nytimes.com/1989/03/17/us/koop-says-abortion-report-couldn-t-survive-challenge.html)

    In his 1989 testimony in front of Congress, the reason Koop said he distanced himself from the draft that was released was that it was completed after he told Reagan that his office would not produce a report.

    Further, Koop was very frank in communications with Reagan and the congress that there was no “slam dunk evidence” that abortions caused any long term harm to the mothers — which had been the reason the report was requested in the first place:

    Mr. Reagan had asked the Surgeon General, who also opposes abortion, for the report after meeting with abortion opponents. … Abortion opponents contend there is a heretofore unrecognized post-abortion stress syndrome, similar to that suffered by some Vietnam veterans after the war. …

    ”In the minds of some of them, it was a foregone conclusion that the negative health effects of abortion on women were so overwhelming that the evidence would force the reversal of Roe vs. Wade,” [Dr. Koop] wrote Mr. Reagan, referring to the United States Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. … ”There is no doubt about the fact that some people have severe psychological effects after abortion,” Dr. Koop told the hearing, ”but anecdotes do not make good scientific material.”
    (source: ibid)

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  10. matt bernius says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    And his confirmation hearings were quite contentious, with Democrats holding up his nomination for 11 months because of his positions on abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

    A sign that long running debates over cabinet positions are not a particularly new thing. To put things in perspective, Koop had made himself a bit of a lighting rod on the topic. In the late 70′s he made statements in numerous public speeches ‘ that predicted a progression “from liberalized 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.”‘ (source)

    The “Koop Report” that claimed no long-term consequences for women who had abortions was prepared without his cooperation and released under his name against his choice.

    Your version of events is playing rather fast and loose with history (go figure). Evidence — including sworn testimony from Koop — paints a different picture.

    Koop gave his assistant, George Walter, the task of researching and drafting the report. BTW, this is the way these things usually work. However, both Walter and Koop reviewed all of the texts that were being used to draft the report and followup interviews and questioning.

    Dr. Koop acknowledged that he and George Walter, an assistant who drafted the report, had reviewed most of those studies without sending them to other scientists. But he said he and Mr. Walter were qualified to do the reviews with occasional telephone consultation with others.
    (source: http://www.nytimes.com/1989/03/17/us/koop-says-abortion-report-couldn-t-survive-challenge.html)

    So Coop was involved in the production of the report.

    The reason for the distancing was a little more complex. At some point, Coop realized that the evidence at hand was not going to be enough to create what he considered would be an unimpeachable report. In his 1989 testimony in front of Congress, the reason Koop said he distanced himself from the released draft was that it was completed after he told Reagan that his office would not produce a report.

    BTW, a lot of this also ties to the political origins of the report.

    Mr. Reagan had asked the Surgeon General, who also opposes abortion, for the report after meeting with abortion opponents. … Abortion opponents contend there is a heretofore unrecognized post-abortion stress syndrome, similar to that suffered by some Vietnam veterans after the war. …

    ”In the minds of some of them, it was a foregone conclusion that the negative health effects of abortion on women were so overwhelming that the evidence would force the reversal of Roe vs. Wade,” [Dr. Koop] wrote Mr. Reagan, referring to the United States Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. … ”There is no doubt about the fact that some people have severe psychological effects after abortion,” Dr. Koop told the hearing, ”but anecdotes do not make good scientific material.”
    (source: ibid)

    As you can see above, Koop was very frank in communications with Reagan and the congress that there was no “slam dunk evidence” that abortions caused any long term harm to the mothers — which had been the reason the report was requested in the first place.

    The fact is that Koop was a good/responsible scientist and doctor. And that’s something that caused him to be attacked by a number of people on the right who were appalled that he didn’t produce reports that fit their beliefs (in particular on the topics of Abortion and Smoking) and advocated for responsible sex education.

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  11. matt bernius says:

    Ugg.. crapp… I thought I had hit “preview” … Can someone delete post 9?

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