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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 Children’s 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 Children’s 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 Nation’s 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 Koop’s 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 General’s report on smoking and health, its anti-tobacco campaign was relatively low-key until invigorated by Koop’s persistent efforts to speak out on the subject. The 1986 Surgeon General’s 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. Koop’s 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. Koop’s 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.

Last Revised: April 23, 2004

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