Koop, Who Transformed Surgeon General Post, Dies
|WILSON RING and CONNIE CASS, Associated Press|
With his striking beard and starched uniform, former Surgeon General Dr.
His nomination in 1981 met a wall of opposition from women's groups and liberal politicians, who complained President
Soon, though, he was a hero to AIDS activists, who chanted "Koop, Koop" at his appearances but booed other officials. And when he left his post in 1989, he left behind a landscape where AIDS was a top research and educational priority, smoking was considered a public health hazard, and access to abortion remained largely intact.
Koop, who turned his once-obscure post into a bully pulpit for seven years during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and who surprised both ends of the political spectrum by setting aside his conservative personal views on issues such as homosexuality and abortion to keep his focus sharply medical, died Monday at his home in
An assistant at Koop's
"He set the bar high for all who followed in his footsteps," Carmona said.
Although the surgeon general has no real authority to set government policy, Koop described himself as "the health conscience of the country" and said modestly just before leaving his post that "my only influence was through moral suasion."
A former pipe smoker, Koop carried out a crusade to end smoking in
"At the time, he really changed the national conversation, and he showed real courage in pursuing the duties of his job," Collins said.
Even after leaving office, Koop continued to promote public health causes, from preventing childhood accidents to better training for doctors.
"I will use the written word, the spoken word and whatever I can in the electronic media to deliver health messages to this country as long as people will listen," he promised.
In 1996, he rapped Republican presidential hopeful
Although Koop eventually won wide respect with his blend of old-fashioned values, pragmatism and empathy, his nomination met staunch opposition.
Foes noted that Koop traveled the country in 1979 and 1980 giving 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."
But Koop, a devout Presbyterian, was confirmed after he told a
In 1986, he issued a frank report on AIDS, urging the use of condoms for "safe sex" and advocating sex education as early as third grade.
He also maneuvered around uncooperative Reagan administration officials in 1988 to send an educational AIDS pamphlet to more than 100 million U.S. households, the largest public health mailing ever.
Koop personally opposed homosexuality and believed sex should be saved for marriage. But he insisted that Americans, especially young people, must not die because they were deprived of explicit information about how HIV was transmitted.
Koop further angered conservatives by refusing to issue a report requested by the Reagan White House, saying he could not find enough scientific evidence to determine whether abortion has harmful psychological effects on women.
Koop maintained his personal opposition to abortion, however. After he left office, he told medical students it violated their Hippocratic oath. In 2009, he wrote to Senate Majority Leader
Koop served as chairman of the National Safe Kids Campaign and as an adviser to President
At a congressional hearing in 2007, Koop spoke about political pressure on the surgeon general post. He said Reagan was pressed to fire him every day, but Reagan would not interfere.
Koop, worried that medicine had lost old-fashioned caring and personal relationships between doctors and patients, opened his institute at
Koop was born in the
Koop received his medical degree at
In 1938, he married
Koop was appointed surgeon-in-chief at
He pioneered surgery on newborns and successfully separated three sets of conjoined twins. He won national acclaim by reconstructing the chest of a baby born with the heart outside the body.
Although raised as a Baptist, he was drawn to a Presbyterian church near the hospital, where he developed an abiding faith. He began praying at the bedside of his young patients _ ignoring the snickers of some of his colleagues.
Koop's wife died in 2007, and he married
He was by far the best-known surgeon general and for decades afterward was still a recognized personality.
"I was walking down the street with him one time" about five years ago, recalled Dr.
Ring reported from
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