Monday, February 25, 2013

Dr. Koop Speaks Out

[Originally posted October 30, 2009]

President Reagan's Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, M.D., noteworthy for his public health pronouncements based on scientific facts during the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, is now 93 years old. With his penchant for truth-telling, Dr. Koop recently described a troubling aspect of the mindset of Mr. Reagan's largely conservative cabinet in an interview that was printed in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine:

"The attitude of President Ronald Reagan's cabinet was that the kind of people who got AIDS -- promiscuous women, homosexual men, drug addicts, people on heroin -- deserved what they got. Americans hadn't treated prisoners of war as badly." (DAM, Nov/Dec 2009, p. 96).

Dr. Koop is an equal-opportunity critic; in the same interview, he questioned the necessity of President Obama's wholesale reform of America's health care system. Such skepticism -- the laudable practice of looking before one leaps -- is a proper function of conservatism as a countervailing force to ambitious political agendas.

What Dr. Koop's observation about his fellow Reagan Administration political appointees confirms, however, is that the Republicans' attitude toward the defining public health disaster of the 1980s and 1990s was a matter not of principled, conservative caution but of active contempt for certain disfavored segments of citizens. It's a worthy contribution to the historical record from the former official who is still, in some minds, America's Physician.

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Epilogue: According to a Dartmouth College statement, "Former Surgeon General of the United States C. Everett Koop ’37, MD, a pioneer in the field of pediatric surgery, a leader in the fight to create a smoke-free nation, and founder of the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, died peacefully at his home in Hanover, N.H. on February 25, 2013. He was 96 years old."

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