C. Everett Koop: The Surgeon General Who Put Science Before Personal Ideology

February 28, 2013
by Martha Kempner
RH Reality Check


Growing up, I knew some things about then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop who died this week at the age of 96. I knew he was the guy who put the warning label on cigarettes. I knew he was the guy who said that condoms prevented AIDS. I knew he was the guy who said that kissing was okay because you would have to drink a bucket of saliva before you could possibly contract HIV. And I knew he was the guy who, like my grandfather, had a white beard, no mustache, and favored bow ties. 

I didn’t know that he was also the guy who had written books on how abortion and euthanasia were going to destroy the human race. I didn’t know that he was also the guy who was left out of almost all initial discussion of AIDS by the Reagan Administration because they didn’t want to hear his rational, public health approach to the encroaching epidemic. I didn’t know to that, despite his anti-abortion stance, his final act in office was to say he could find no legitimate scientific research to support the idea that abortion causes lasting psychological harm to women. And I didn’t know just how unusual it was that in my teen years I even knew the name of the Surgeon General. Before Koop (and at times since), the nation’s top doctor was not really a public figure.


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