Yesterday, we lost one of the finest physician leaders of our time, Dr. C. Everett Koop. He was a unique personality, at least by 2013 standards: resolute in his evangelical Christian beliefs, yet equally dedicated to the authority of science on matters of health and medicine. A brilliant Pediatric Surgeon, he used the seat of Surgeon General under President Ronald Reagan as his bully pulpit, for the good of us all. He took the ancient title of doctore–teacher–seriously, in spite of endless politics, and I challenge today’s physicians, especially our future physicians, to learn from his model.
He was clear-eyed and focused in matters of policy related to health. He was not afraid to teach the American people about the unmentionables surrounding the transmission and prevention of HIV, against a stiff conservative tide, and focus public health efforts at the root of an uncontrolled problem. A staunch disbeliever in the morality of abortion, he nevertheless met with activists from many states and reviewed the scientific literature in depth. In the end, despite the urging of the President, he declined to issue a report because the evidence was not sufficient to support or deny pro-life or pro-choice claims being asserted at the time. He took on a bewildered Tobacco lobby, pointing out the elephant-in-the-room and officially blaming tobacco for cancer.
Take a moment to read about his work, as Surgeon General and afterward, and remember a man who earned the respect and friendship of people he disagreed with, and ended his life at 96, a Doctor, a Leader and a Hero.
Rest in well-earned peace, Dr. Koop.