Jewish World Review March 4, 2013/ 22 Adar 5773
The nation's doctor
By Paul Greenberg
The surgeon general of
Dr. Koop, who died this week at the grand old age of 96, was indeed a surgeon and a fine one (his specialty was pediatric surgery at Children's in
The rabid right didn't like his crusade against AIDS -- he spoke of it openly and treated it as a disease instead of a moral failing -- and his campaign for sex education, saying words like condom out loud. Shocking. As for the pro-abortion left -- excuse us, the pro-choice left -- it objected to his unswerving reverence for human life.
"Once the value of human life has been depreciated, as in Roe v. Wade and the Baby Doe Case, no one is safe. Once 'quality of life' is substituted for the absolute value of human life itself, we all are endangered. Already respected scientists are calling for a time period following birth (a week or so) to decide if newborns have 'sufficient quality of life' to be allowed to live. Already committees of 'medical professionals' would like to decide whether the 'quality of life' of the elderly or anyone seriously ill is high enough to allow them to go on living."
Dr. Koop had foreseen "death panels" long before the idea had become a volatile topic of political debate -- and understood the fatal potentialities in stylish cliché like quality-of-life. It wasn't just in the medical journals, where he documented his pioneering work as a pediatric surgeon in numerous articles, but in the nation's conscience that
The doctor never let his faith interfere with his science, or his science with his faith. He was true to both. He never saw any need to reconcile them because they didn't conflict. But supported each other. Like intelligence and conscience.
If any of the good doctor's stands aroused more ire than his views on abortion and the rights of handicapped children, it was his campaign against smoking, which did not please the tobacco industry and powerful lobby, not at all. It was during his tenure as surgeon general -- in 1988 -- that his office released an irrefutable study on the addictive powers of tobacco.
As early as 1984, the doctor had challenged Americans to "create a smoke-free society in
Dr. Koop may have made his errors of judgment. For example, he got entirely too close, too profitably to the manufacturers of some of the health products he'd helped develop. But his campaign against smoking, including the second-hand variety, was no mistake; it was more a vision achieved.
As surgeon-in-chief at Children's, he not only established innovative programs but taught, wrote and generally educated. He proceeded to do much the same as surgeon general of
Dr. Koop caught it from both sides -- the Advanced Thinkers and the Bible Thumpers, too. And he didn't seem to mind at all. Neither did
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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