C Everett Koop

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 15 March 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1491
  1. Bob Roehr, freelance journalist, Washington
  1. BobRoehr{at}

US surgeon general extraordinaire

It is difficult to comprehend the hysteria that surrounded HIV/AIDS in the United States in the first decade of the epidemic. When homosexuality was still deemed taboo. When there was no effective treatment for AIDS, and healthy young men would turn into shuffling cadavers in a matter of weeks, and then disappear.

A firebomb drove the Ray family from their home in Arcadia, Florida, because the parents sought to enrol their boys—aged 8, 9, and 10—in school. The children had contracted HIV through blood products used to treat their haemophilia.

C (Charles) Everett Koop stood as a beacon of reason amid the maelstrom of ignorance and fear surrounding AIDS. As US surgeon general in the Reagan and Bush administrations, from 1982 to 1989, he was one of the few government leaders who spoke of science and compassion when most others were silent or worse.

He issued a report “written personally by me to provide the necessary understanding of AIDS” in 1986 ( Cognisant of the political minefield he was walking through, Koop consulted with leading authorities and wrote 17 drafts. The final version spoke frankly and honestly of sex, transmission …

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