C. Everett Koop (1982-1989)
Charles Everett Koop was born in Brooklyn, New York on October 14, 1916.
He obtained his B.A. degree from Dartmouth College in 1937 and his M.D. degree from
Cornell Medical School in 1941. After interning at the Pennsylvania Hospital for a year,
Koop pursued postgraduate training at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine,
Boston Childrens Hospital, and the Graduate School of Medicine of the University of
Pennsylvania (where he obtained a D.Sc. Degree in 1947). He then worked his way up the
academic ladder at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine to become professor
of pediatric surgery in 1959 and eventually professor of pediatrics as well.
From 1948 to 1981, Koop was also Surgeon-in-Chief at the Childrens
Hospital of Philadelphia. There he became a pioneer in the field of pediatric surgery, and
established one of the best departments in the field in the country, including the
Nations first neonatal intensive care nursery. He also helped to establish the
American Academy of Pediatric Surgeons and its journal.
In February, 1981, President Reagan appointed Koop as Deputy Assistant
Secretary for Health with the promise that he would be nominated as Surgeon General.
Opposition to Koops appointment, especially by those concerned that he would use the
position of Surgeon General as a platform for his anti-abortion views, delayed the
confirmation process. But he was finally confirmed by the Senate on November 16, 1981 and
officially sworn in as Surgeon General on January 21, 1982.
Koop proved to be an outspoken advocate on public health issues. The
problem of tobacco was one that he attacked particularly vigorously, calling for "A
Smoke-Free Society by the Year 2000." Although the Public Health Service had been
calling attention to the danger of tobacco smoking since the 1964 Surgeon Generals
report on smoking and health, its anti-tobacco campaign was relatively low-key until
invigorated by Koops persistent efforts to speak out on the subject. The 1986
Surgeon Generals report on the dangers of passive smoking was also an important
milestone in the fight against smoking.
As the Nation began to recognize AIDS as a new and deadly disease, Koop
eventually became the chief Federal spokesperson on AIDS. After remaining silent on AIDS
for several years, President Reagan asked Koop to prepare a report on AIDS early in 1986.
For the next 9 months, Koop worked on this report, writing much of it himself. The report,
released on October 22, 1986, was explicit, nonjudgmental, controversial, and popular. It
contributed significantly to providing accurate, comprehensive information on this
frightening disease. Koop also personally penned "Understanding AIDS," the PHS
brochure based on CDC guidelines that was sent to all 107 million households in the United
States in 1988, the largest public health mailing ever done. Koops frank statements
about AIDS and his treatment of it as a public health rather than a moral issue won him
many admirers, but his approach was not welcomed in all circles and he lost the support of
many who had originally backed his appointment.
Koop also did much to revitalize the PHS Commissioned Corps, and oversaw
the centennial celebration of the Corps in 1989. Koops high-profile positions on
topics such as tobacco, AIDS, organ transplantation, and the rights of the disabled also
made the office of Surgeon General probably as prominent as it has ever been. He resigned
as Surgeon General on October 1, 1989, but continues to educate the public about health
issues through his writings and the electronic media. Dr. Koop also serves as Senior
Scholar of the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth University and is chair or a member
of various boards of health-related groups.