Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop Dead At 96
February 26, 2013

Former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop Dies At 96

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Dr. C. Everett Koop, a pioneer in helping to change the attitude about smoking in the US, died at the age of 96 on Monday.

The former surgeon general was well known for his emphatic warnings about the dangers of smoking, as well as his push to fight AIDS. According to the New York Times, when Dr. Koop first took office back in 1981 under President Ronald Reagan's command, 33 percent of Americans smoked. When he left, that number had dwindled down to 26 percent.

Dr. Koop had reached a level of fame most surgeon generals do not breach. Writer Mark Feeney of the Boston Globe pointed out even Homer Simpson had taken notice of the surgeon general back in 1993 on an episode of "The Simpsons " as he sang "For all the latest medical poop/Call Surgeon General C. Everett Koop/Poo Poo pa-doop."

After Dr. Koop left office in 1989, over 800 local antismoking ordinances had been passed, and the federal government restricted smoking in 6,800 federal buildings.

The former surgeon general faced scrutiny from liberals due to his stance on abortion, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, claiming his stance adhered to a "cruel, outdated and patronizing stereotype of women." His views on abortion are seen as a result of his Presbyterian faith. Later on, Dr. Koop made it known that evidence did not support the contention abortions were unsafe, but afterwards he said he was being naïve in taking that position.

Dr. Koop says the Reagan administration was slow to address AIDS as it began to grow at a rampant pace in the 1980s. Within weeks of AIDS first being discovered, 108 cases were reported in the US, along with 43 deaths. President Reagan later asked Dr. Koop to give a special report about the disease, in which he said the best protection against AIDS was abstinence and monogamy, but for those who practiced neither to use condoms.

He said during his reign as surgeon general in the 1980s, he had pleaded with the White House to let him have a meeting with President Reagan on AIDS, because too many people were placing conservative ideology above saving human lives.

“Our first public health priority, to stop the further transmission of the AIDS virus, became needlessly mired in the homosexual politics of the early 1980s. We lost a great deal of precious time because of this, and I suspect we lost some lives as well," Dr. Koop wrote in his autobiography "The Memoirs of America's Family Doctor."

The American Public Health Association paid tribute to Dr. Koop after learning of his passing on Monday.

“When you look back at the last 75 years, it´s impossible to bring up our nation´s greatest heroes and not mention the contributions of Dr. Koop. He had three careers. First he was a trailblazer who led the effort to found the specialty of pediatric surgery; he then completed his amazing tenure as our 13th surgeon general; and finally, in his post-surgeon general years, he served as a mentor to the nation and a voice of reason on the importance of population health," Georges C. Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA, said in a statement.

Benjamin wrote Dr. Koop was a "vigorous advocate," who used his position as surgeon general to inform the public about health threats.

"His efforts were masterful and effective. He awoke a sleeping nation to the risks of HIV/ AIDS and prodded policymakers, including a president, to take action on leading public health concerns," he added. “APHA extends its deepest condolences to Dr. Koop´s wife and family, and celebrates the life of a true national hero.”