Exploring Human Potential

American Science’s “Odd Couple” – Dr.’s Koop and Fauci.

Posted on | June 8, 2021 | 2 Comments

The following 5-part series is excerpted from an as yet unpublished history of 20th Century medicine in the United States by Mike Magee MD.

PART I: The Conversion of C. Everett Koop

On the day after Ronald Reagan’s election, Christian conservative Jerry Falwell was euphoric. As he said, “I knew that we would have some impact on the national elections, but I had no idea that it would be this great.”(1)

One other big personality who saw, in Reagan’s win, a win of his own was C. Everett Koop. Carl Anderson, a Catholic aide to North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, had informally approached him that fall to explore in earnest his willingness to accept the nomination as Surgeon General of the United States.

For Chick, the timing was perfect. At 64 1/2, he saw his days in the operating theatre at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia as numbered. He was filled with a sense of mission that energized him, and his wife, Betty, was encouraging him to pursue the new role. In his customary fashion, Chick did his homework, gauging his supporters and his opponents. (2) Among the former, in addition to Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, there was the conservative Catholic Henry Hyde of Illinois. Regrettably on the negative side of the ledger sat the American Medical Association, which saw him as unpredictable and were already on record as supporting University of Texas vice chancellor of Health Affairs, Edward Brandt Jr.

The opposition of the AMA should have been an early warning signal. But Chick, hard-nosed, direct, and science driven, was also something of a dreamer, a Don Quixote optimist, prone to a romantic vision of the world and his role in it. His governor in Pennsylvania, Richard Schweiker, the lead candidate to head up Reagan’s Department of Health and Human Services, split the difference. Edward Brandt would be made the Assistant Secretary of the department, and Koop would be nominated for Surgeon General.(3)

If Chick thought that this compromise had resolved the issue, he was soon surprised as an avalanche of opposition to his nomination rapidly congealed.(4) Anticipating speedy approval, he had taken leave of his position in Philadelphia, resigned from the Boards of several Christian Conservative organizations, and taken up residency in Washington. He knew that the AMA had approached the White House through the back door and was encouraging them to drop him, but he felt that issue had already been decided. He knew as well that his past publications and activism as writing and traveling tour partner to uber conservative minister Francis Schaefer ensured the opposition of Planned Parenthood, the National Organization of Women, and the National Gay Alliance. But when the American Public Health Association (APHA) came out in full-throated opposition – that was a surprise. In the past 100 years, they had never before formally opposed a nominee for this post.(2)

For the dignified surgeon and conservative Presbyterian, who was used to professional adulation, and believed that he had led a conscience driven, moral and upstanding life, in the service of his fellow Americans, the APHA move was a slap in the face. But that was nothing compared to what he read on the editorial page of the New York Times when he opened his paper on April 9, 1981. There, in black and white, was the lead editorial with a blaring title – “Dr. Unqualified”.(5) In the editorial, they acknowledged in the first line that he had a “fine reputation as a pediatric surgeon” but found him “not deserving” of the role of Surgeon General. The charge that he had no “significant experience in the field of public health” wasn’t a big surprise, especially since the APHA had torched him. But the attack that followed, cued up by the supposition that his “attractiveness to the Administration must lie elsewhere” had to bring a grimace to his stately face.

Answering their own query, the editors said, “That ‘elsewhere’ may be his anti-abortion crusade. Two years earlier, he and Francis Schaefer had toured 20 cities with a film whose message was that abortion led inexorably to euthanasia for the elderly. And he has described amniocentesis, a procedure used to detect congenital disorders like Down’s syndrome and Tay-Sachs disease in fetuses, as ‘a search-and destroy mission.’”

Pending approval, Schweiker put Koop on the payroll as his assistant. The months dragged on, and Koop, encouraged to stay under the radar screen, focused on establishing as many relationships as possible. The people he met were surprised, as they had always been throughout his life. The severe physical package did not reflect the accessible and generous individual within. Chick would later reflect, “Out of those tough months, I made a number of very important friends in HHS who believed in me, believed I was being given a raw deal, who did think I was credible, who did think I had an idea and the ability to do something with it.”(6)

In October, 1981, while testifying before Congress, he surprised his audience when he stated clearly, “It is not my intent to use any government post as a pulpit for theology”.(6) Apparently, his Christian conservative backers thought this was simply a matter of political slight of hand. But for the Democratic leaders, like Henry Waxman and Ted Kennedy, this was a turning point. In November, the Senate confirmed him with a vote of 68 to 24, and on January 21, 1982, more than a year after the battle had engaged, C. Everett Koop was sworn in as the 13th Surgeon General of the United States.(7)

Next: PART II – A Communications Genius Rides Tobacco To Success.

References: On request.



2 Responses to “American Science’s “Odd Couple” – Dr.’s Koop and Fauci.”

  1. Hamza
    June 19th, 2021 @ 1:05 pm

    Really helpful for me now I known American sciences

  2. HealthForce Training Center
    June 22nd, 2021 @ 3:22 pm


    Very interesting and informative, good job and thanks for sharing such a good blog.

    HealthForce Training Center
    Connecticut|Florida|New Jersey|New York

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