My watch list  

C. Everett Koop

C. Everett Koop

In office
January 21, 1981 – October 1, 1989
Preceded by Edward Brandt, Jr.
Succeeded by James O. Mason

Born October 14 1916 (1916-10-14) (age 96)
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Political party Republican

Charles Everett Koop, (born October 14 1916 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American physician. He served as the Surgeon General of the United States from 1982 to 1989, under Ronald Reagan's presidency. He was in a sense the first "celebrity Surgeon General"[1] and is probably still the best-known holder of the office.

Koop obtained his B.A. degree from Dartmouth College in 1937, where he was a member of Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, and his M.D. degree from Cornell Medical College in 1941. During the 1940s and 1950s he rose in the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine to become professor of pediatric surgery and, later, professor of pediatrics. In February 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed Koop as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health with the promise, fulfilled a year 9 months later, that he would be nominated as Surgeon General.

Koop is well known for four facets of his work:

  • Abortion: Though Koop was philosophically opposed to abortion on personal religious grounds, he declined to state that abortion procedures performed by qualified medical professionals posed a substantial health risk to women, despite political pressure to endorse such a position.
  • Tobacco: In 1988 he published a report stating that nicotine has an addictiveness similar to that of heroin or cocaine. Koop's report was somewhat unexpected, especially by those who expected him to maintain the status quo in regard to his office's position on tobacco products. Koop also began the practice of placing warning labels, listing the negative health effects, on all packs of cigarettes.
  • AIDS: Koop's tenure included the period when public health authorities began to take notice of AIDS. Koop wrote the official U.S. policy on the syndrome and took unprecedented action in mailing AIDS information to every U.S. household. Many were unhappy with the way in which he dealt with gay sex and the risk of infection through anal sex; Koop was unapologetic and explained his position in terms of such activities entailing risks several orders of magnitude greater than other means of transmission. Koop also infuriated former supporters on the right for insisting on sex education in schools, possibly as early as the third grade, including later instruction regarding the proper use of condoms to combat the spread of AIDS. While straightforwardly telling the public about the disease was controversial, Koop was criticized by some health activists, who claimed that instead of attempting to develop a cure or vaccine, Koop was reducing the government's duty to that of educating the public on health concerns.
  • Baby Doe and the Rights of Handicapped Children: In April 1982, a child born in Bloomington, Indiana was diagnosed as having Down syndrome, as well as esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula. Six days later, after court involvement and parental discussion involving disagreement among physicians about whether or not to treat the baby or let him die, the baby died, having been denied surgical treatment to correct his esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula. Baby Doe, as he would be known, became a symbol for children with birth defects, handicapped infants, and the debate over infanticide. Koop was initially not officially or unofficially involved with the Baby Doe case, but had a special interest in it. As a pediatric surgeon in Philadelphia, he and his colleagues had operated on 475 such babies during his 35 years there, with ever-increasing survival rates. During his last eight years in active practice, Koop never lost a full-term baby upon whom he had operated to correct esophageal atresia. It was from this that Koop became actively involved in championing policies to protect newborns with defects.

Taken together, these four issues combined with Dr. Koop's personality and his willingness to make use of mass media brought to the office of Surgeon General a higher public profile than it previously had merited; he is, for instance, the first Surgeon General to have been the subject of a popular song — "Promiscuous", by Frank Zappa. Koop was a somewhat eccentric and flamboyant figure, well-known for his mustache-less beard and colorful bow ties. He wore the Surgeon General's ceremonial military uniform (a naval admiral's dress uniform, complete with medals) during much of his day-to-day work, reviving an old practice.

Additional recommended knowledge


The "Koop Report"

On July 30, 1987, President Ronald Reagan directed Koop to prepare a report on abortion's effect on women. Koop did not want to write the report, for an assortment of personal and professional reasons. He tried repeatedly to beg off, but Reagan insisted. Koop passed the task to his staff. The research and preparations for the planned report became largely the task of George Walter, who obtained a list of articles from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), authored mostly by CDC abortion-surveillance staff, and consulted extensively with Alan Guttmacher Institute personnel. After the meetings and the review of the articles provided by the CDC, Koop wrote and sent a letter to the President, concluding that there had been no unassailable study of the long-term effect of abortion.

Koop directed his staff to drop the project on January 10, 1989, hoping Reagan would be content with the letter. Nevertheless, George Walter proceeded to re-write the report, submitting it to Koop on January 17. Koop instructed Walter to shelve the draft and not to release any report about abortion from his office. Instead, Walter released the draft under Koop's name.

During his testimony before a Congressional committee investigating these events, Koop repeatedly tried to separate himself from the report with vague statements about not having read it.

The result of the episode was the creation of a "Koop Report", which was not researched, written, or approved by Koop, and which Koop never used to assert the indisputable safety of induced abortion.

Medical career

Although he was most widely known among Americans for his years being the Surgeon General, the vast bulk of Koop's career was actually spent as a practicing physician. For 35 years, from 1946 to 1981, he was the surgeon-in-chief at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and this at a time when pediatric surgery as a specialty was moving from its infancy to a full fledged profession. (When Koop established the pediatric surgical division at CHOP in 1946, it was the first such service in Philadelphia and only the second such service established in North America behind Boston, where Dr. William E. Ladd and Dr. Robert E. Gross had pioneered pediatric surgical services.) Koop was able to establish the nation's first neonatal surgical intensive care unit there in 1956. He helped establish the biliary atresia program at CHOP when pioneering surgeon Dr. Morio Kasai came to work with him in the 1970s. He also established the pediatric surgery fellowship training program at CHOP. During his tenure there he graduated thirty-five residents and fourteen foreign fellows, many of whom went on to become professors of pediatric surgery, directors of divisions of pediatric surgery, and surgeons-in-chief of children's hospitals.

Koop was active in publishing articles in the medical literature. Koop later wrote that "each day of those early years in pediatric surgery I felt I was on the cutting edge. Some of the surgical problems that landed on the operating table at Children's had not even been named. Many of the operations I performed had never been done before. It was an exuberant feeling, but also a little scary. At times I was troubled by fears that I wasn't doing things the right way, that I would have regrets, or that someone else had performed a certain procedure successfully but had never bothered to write it up for the medical journals, or if they had I couldn't find it." Koop helped rectify this by publishing his own findings and results. Additionally he became the first editor of the Journal of Pediatric Surgery when it was founded in 1966.

In contrast to his years as Surgeon General, when it was his policies and speeches that had bearing on other people, his years as an operating pediatric surgeon involved a more individualized, direct, hands-on effect on others. During the course of his long career, for example, he performed some seventeen thousand inguinal hernia repairs and over seven thousand orchiopexies (surgery for correcting undescended testicle). He developed new procedures, such as the colon interposition graft for correcting esophageal atresia (congenital lack of continuity of the esophagus) or ventriculoperitoneal shunts for treatment of hydrocephalus (accumulation of excessive cerebral spinal fluid in and around the brain causing neurological problems). He also tackled many difficult cases ranging from childhood cancer cases to surgeries done on conjoined (Siamese) twins, of which he and his colleagues operated upon ten pairs during his 35 year tenure. In all he operated on many children and babies with congenital defects 'incompatible with life but amenable to surgical correction'.

Much of the opposition that Koop later faced in being confirmed as President Reagan's choice as Surgeon General came from his widely known views about right to life. In 1976, after spending an entire Saturday with his pediatric surgery fellows operating on three patients with severe congenital defects, Koop sat in the cafeteria and remarked that together they had given over two hundred years of life to three individuals who together barely weighed ten pounds. When one of the surgical fellows replied that next door at the university hospital abortions were being performed on healthy babies, Koop was stirred to write The Right to Live, The Right to Die, setting down his concerns about abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. Koop also took some time off from his surgical practice to make a series of films with Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer entitled "Whatever Happened to the Human Race". These films, along with a book published by the same name, reflected Koop's opposition to abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia and fired much of the controversy and initial antagonism that surrounded Koop's nomination for Surgeon General.

Other activities

In the spring of 1968, Koop's son David was killed in a rock climbing accident on Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire during his junior year at Dartmouth College. While he was hammering a piton into the rock, a large section of the cliff sheared off from the mountain face, carrying him with it. The death was devastating for the family. Dr. Koop later wrote that because of his son's death he thought, "I might be better able to help parents of dying children, but for quite a while I felt less able, too emotionally involved. And from that time on, I could rarely discuss the death of a child without tears welling up into my eyes." Years later, he and his wife wrote a book to help others who had lost a child. It was called "Sometimes Mountains Move" and described David's story and how the Koop family members each dealt with the grieving process.

Following his career as Surgeon General, Koop and other investors established in 1998. This medical information website was one of the first major online sources of health information. However, critical review of the site content revealed that many of the private care listings, medicinal recommendations and medical trial referrals were in fact paid advertisements. Dr. Koop is no longer associated with the website, which continues to be active. Koop also continues to endorse Life-Alert bracelets for the elderly. In the advertisements, the senior citizen is heard saying, "Help, I've fallen, and I can't get up". Dr. Koop is currently the holder of three professorships at Dartmouth Medical School, as well as the senior scholar at DMS's C. Everett Koop Institute. He is also a recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism.

He is currently sitting on The Firestorm Solutions Expert Council. [2]

He hosted a documentary series in 1991, simply titled C. Everett Koop, M.D.. It aired for six episodes on NBC.[3]

His nickname among friends and colleagues is reportedly "Chick" (as in Chicken Koop). [4]

Outspoken talk show host Morton Downey Jr. often denounced Koop on his program using the epithet "C. Everett Crap."

In the 1992 Seinfeld episode The Boyfriend, Jerry compares Elaine to Koop when she breaks up with Keith Hernandez for smoking.

In the 1993 episode Homer's Barbershop Quartet of The Simpsons, Koop was referenced in a Be-Sharps song. In the 2001 Simpsons episode Bye Bye Nerdie, a dramatized Koop accuses Lisa of being a witch.

Koop played himself in a satirical comedy sketch about unsafe sex and AIDS on a Robert Townsend HBO special.

In an episode of King Of The Hill entitled Hank's Unmentionable Problem, Koop appeared in a video Peggy Hill was watching about constipation.

In an episode of Psych entitled "If You're So Smart, Then Why Are You Dead?", Shawn and Gus are selected as visiting teachers over C. Everett Koop at a school for the gifted.

Koop was also the subject of an interview by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen for HBO's Da Ali G Show. Koop was annoyed from the start by the ridiculous questions asked by Ali G.

In 2004, Dr. Koop began appearing in television ads endorsing Life Alert.

In February 2007, Elizabeth Koop, Dr. Koop's wife of more than 60 years passed away.

Currently, Dr. Koop is working on various health initiatives with his grandson, David Koop.


  • Visible and Palpable Lesions in Children by C. Everett Koop, M.D., Sc.D. Grune & Stratton 1976 ISBN 0-8089-0958-4
  • The Right to Live: The Right to Die by C. Everett Koop, M.D., Tyndale 1976 ISBN 0842355936
  • Sometimes Mountains Move by C. Everett and Elizabeth Koop. Tyndale 1974 ISBN 0842360646; revised edition printed by Zondervan in 1995, ISBN 0310486726
  • Whatever Happened to the Human Race? by C. Everett Koop, M.D. and Francis A. Schaeffer. Crossway Books 1979/1983 revised ISBN 0891072918
  • Koop: The Memoirs of America's Family Doctor by C. Everett Koop, M.D. Harper-Zondervan 1992 ISBN 0-310-59772-2
  • Let's Talk: An Honest Conversation on Critical Issues: Abortion, AIDS, Euthanasia, Healthcare by C. Everett Koop, M.D. and Timothy Johnson. Zondervan 1992 ISBN 0310597811
Preceded by
Edward Brandt, Jr.
Surgeon General of the United States
January 21 1982 – October 1 1989
Succeeded by
James O. Mason
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "C._Everett_Koop". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE