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February 26, 2013 2:23 am
C. Everett Koop, the US surgeon-general during the Reagan and Bush administrations who demonised smoking and took controversial stances on Aids and abortion, died in his home in New Hampshire on Monday. He was 96.
Koop, who was famously bearded and bespectacled, raised the profile of the surgeon-general position, using it as a bully pulpit from 1981 until 1989. He made it his mission to educate Americans on the dangers of smoking and called for warning labels on cigarette packages.
An evangelical Christian, Koop opposed abortion but refused to produce a report requested by the Reagan administration about the procedure’s ill effects on women. He also angered conservatives by promoting condom use and sex education in spite of criticism that he should only be condoning abstinence to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease.
“He did not back down from deeply rooted health challenges or powerful interests that stood in the way of needed change. Instead, he fought, he educated, and he transformed lives for the better,” said Dr Wiley Souba, dean of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, where Koop founded an institute.
Koop was born in Brooklyn in 1916 and studied zoology at Dartmouth before going on to graduate from Cornell Medical College in 1941. He practised paediatric medicine for many years in Philadelphia, where he became surgeon-in-chief at city’s main children’s hospital.
Koop developed a device that prevented anaesthesia overdoses in children in 1977 and garnered international acclaim when he became the first surgeon to separate Siamese twins joined at the heart. The procedure saved the life of one of the children.
For the tobacco industry, Koop was a constant opponent. In 1988 he released a report claiming that 30 per cent of all cancer deaths were attributable to cigarette smoking and argued that nicotine was as addictive as heroin or cocaine.
“As far as I am concerned, my obligation is to save lives and to alleviate suffering,” Koop said in an interview years after his retirement.
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