C. Everett Koop always put nation's health first

2013-02-28T00:00:00Z C. Everett Koop always put nation's health first Arizona Daily Star
February 28, 2013 12:00 am

The following editorial appeared Wednesday in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

No U.S. surgeon general before or since C. Everett Koop has used the job's bully pulpit so effectively to prod Americans into taking better care of themselves.

Koop died Monday at age 96, his longevity a testament to his advice on living a long life. Atop the list: Don't smoke. Using research connecting cancer to tobacco use, Koop urged people not to smoke if they hadn't started, and to quit if they had.

Koop, with his Captain Ahab beard and stern demeanor, was an imposing figure. When he said smokers are 10 times more likely to develop lung cancer, people listened. During his 1981-89 tenure, the share of Americans who smoked dropped from 33 percent to 26 percent.

A special report that Koop prepared in 1986 still represents the best advice for avoiding the sexual transmission of the AIDS virus: Either practice abstinence or monogamy, or use a condom. The Reagan White House wanted him to leave out the condoms part, but Koop wouldn't let politics get in the way of the truth.

Koop, chief surgeon at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for 35 years, extolled the rights of infants with congenital defects to receive medical care, catching the attention of the anti-abortion movement. However, he could not conclude that abortions are medically unsafe. Thus, he said, whether a woman has an abortion must in most cases be decided on the basis of her morality or religion.

Too few in today's golden age of political expediency similarly allow truth to overrule ambition.

Some say Koop's candor cost him an appointment as secretary of health and human services. It doesn't matter. Koop's service to his country was outstanding.

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