C. Everett Koop

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I never changed my stripes during all that time, and I still haven’t. What I did in that job was what any well-trained doctor or scientist would do: I looked at the data and then presented the facts to the American people. In science, you can’t hide from the data.
—Yes, he really was an Evangelical Republican. [1]

Dr. Charles Everett "Chick" Koop (1916-2013) was a vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the Surgeon General under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush from 1981-1989, and a professor at Dartmouth Medical School. He is remembered as one of America's finest Surgeons General for his promotion of anti-smoking campaigns, for his extraordinary efforts to educate the public on AIDS, and for his steadfast resistance to the politicization of science.

Early ties to fundamentalists[edit]

Koop co-authored a "right to life" book with Christian fundamentalist Francis Schaeffer. Later, he was promoted by the Reagan administration.

Subsequent history[edit]

Despite being a Reagan nominee (and thus being in the esteemed company of Robert Bork), enjoying the enthusiastic support of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond during the nomination process, and having strong ties to Christian right higher-ups, Koop surprised many of the liberals who had opposed his nomination by turning out to be an impartial, honest, and extremely effective Surgeon General, who made revolutionary contributions to public health and repeatedly resisted the Reagan Administration's attempts to foist politically-motivated pseudoscience on him. On the conservative side of the aisle, Jesse Helms was demanding Koop's resignation by 1984.[2]

Koop's signature accomplishment as Surgeon General was educating the public about the dangers of smoking. He lobbied for lawmakers to crack down on tobacco sales, advertising, and public smoking, and he urged Americans to build "a smoke-free society by the year 2000."[3] During every year in office, he published reports highlighting the links between smoking and cancer, heart disease, COPD, and the dangers of secondhand smoke.[4] His efforts paid off: the rate of smoking in the US fell from 38% when he took office to 27% when he left.[5] He achieved this despite obstruction from the White House, such as trying to prevent him from testifying before Congress about a bill to forbid tobacco advertising.[6] He kept up the fight in retirement, delivering a scathing address to the National Press Club in 1998 about the tobacco lobby's continued buying of influence in Congress.[7]

Koop claimed that the Reagan administration had prevented him from speaking about the AIDS epidemic until 1986, when he was commissioned to write a report on the disease. In 1988, in a then-unprecedented public health campaign, he authorized the United States Public Health Service to mail an educational pamphlet titled Understand AIDS to every household in the U.S., which explained the evidence about how AIDS was transmitted, and told individuals what they could do to reduce their risk of infection. Besides debunking some then-common fears (such as HIV's being transmissible via mosquito bite), the report mentioned gay sex acts and advocated the usage of condoms.[8] Some LGBT groups were upset that pamphlet cited anal intercourse as a high-risk activity, but Koop maintained that he was merely reporting what the data showed. The pamphlet also angered Koop's former fundamentalist allies, some of whom called for his resignation for his frank description of gay sex acts, his refusal to call AIDS a punishment from Gawd, and his promotion of safer sex and sex education.[9]

Koop's most striking display of integrity was his refusal to endorse anti-abortion pseudoscience, despite being anti-abortion himself. Koop always kept his personal opposition to abortion separate from his investigations into the medical science of abortion, despite constant pressure from the wingnut crowd. When pressed by anti-abortion advocates in the administration to investigate whether abortion harmed women's health (with the expected answer being "yes"), Koop oversaw the study, found no evidence that abortion had adverse health effects, and published this finding without letting the administration's wishes get in the way.[10]

As seen in the photo, Koop made the majority of his public appearances in the Public Health Service uniform (not commonly seen before, and somewhat less common after). He was reportedly good-natured about helping fellow airline passengers load their luggage into the overhead bin.

External links[edit]


  1. Michael Specter, "Postscript: C. Everett Koop, 1916-2013', The New Yorker, 26 February 2013
  2. Michael Specter, "Warning: C. Everett Koop", The Washington Post, 6 July 1984
  3. A society free of smoking by the year 2000?.
  4. * "The Health Consequences of Smoking: Cancer: A Report of the Surgeon General (1982)". Profiles.nlm.nih.gov. 1982. 
  5. Mike Stobbe; Connie Cass (February 26, 2013). "C. Everett Koop, 'Rock Star' Surgeon General, Dies". ABC News. Associated Press. 
  6. David Hoffman, "White House Censored Koop, Rep. Waxman Says", The Washington Post, 18 July 1986
  7. The tobacco scandal: where is the outrage? by C. Everett Koop. Tobacco Control. 1998 Winter;7(4):393-6. doi: 10.1136/tc.7.4.393. PMID: 10093174; PMCID: PMC1751451.
  8. Understanding AIDS – A Message from the Surgeon General. Profiles.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved on 2013-02-27.
  9. "The C. Everett Koop Papers: AIDS, the Surgeon General, and the Politics of Public Health". Profiles.nlm.nih.gov. October 22, 1986. 
  10. "U.S. Data on Abortion Censored, House Unit Says". The New York Times. December 11, 1989.