Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Dr. Koop: Still my Hero

Ann Coulter's latest column is critical of former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop. This has brought scrutiny to the issue of Dr. Koop's inclusion as the first name on my roster of heroes, which will presently be addressed.

First of all, I follow and usually applaud Ann Coulter, and regret that schedule conflicts precluded my personal attendance earlier this month at the Book Revue, where Ms. Coulter made her controversial remarks about "the witches of East Brunswick." I regularly read Ms. Coulter's weekly column, have purchased some of her books and will, in all likelihood, purchase some more. Moreover, her criticism of Dr. Koop is not totally without basis.

But, as explicitly disclaimed at its head, this blog is "[a] politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line." Accordingly, I shall not now jump on the "Let's Bash Dr. Koop" bandwagon.

For one thing, the Office of the Surgeon General is a part of the Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS), which is under the direction of the Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH), who, in turn, reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (and, on a day-to-day basis, probably through the Assistant Secretary of HHS.

The Surgeon General is not even on the HHS Organizational Chart on the web, but is buried in the HHS bureaucracy (albeit at a level significantly higher than the GS-one-half clerk who pushes the mail cart through the office). Moreover, the Surgeon General's position is that of a political appointee, no matter how much our congresscritters claim that they want no politics to interfere with the Nation's health.

When the Surgeon General speaks, the only ones who must snap to attention are the members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. The politicians at the higher levels of the tree can take the Surgeon General's advice or leave it, and what they do with it is based upon considerations more political than medical.

The Surgeon General, then, must play the political game or else he/she is not in the game at all! Quite frankly, his political stance on AIDS while he sat in the Surgeon General's office troubles me much less than his anti-tobacco politics. Understand that I am a non-smoker, and that tobacco use is verboten in my house. But understand also that the processing of kosher meat entails the significant use of salt. The same "it's for your own good health" arguments used by Dr. Koop can just as easily be used by the enemies of G-d to restrict religious Jewish people from eating kosher meat. Shouldn't there be more freedom of choice on tobacco use?

In any event, Dr. Koop had to do triage with his agenda in order to actualize the more significant parts of it. In doing his mission, Koop took flak from the folks on either end of the political spectrum. He made the best of a situation in which he could never have all of his wishes granted, and in doing so, he never lost sight of his duty to look after America's health.

If all of the physicians in the country were commissioned in the Public Health Service (which I hope never to see happen), then Koop would have been able to bark out totally pro-life orders and hear his subalterns say "Yes Sir!" But in America, for better or for worse, we have physician autonomy. Our doctors and hospitals are not all a branch of the military.

Before Dr. Koop became the Surgeon General, he was a Philadelphia surgeon who practiced his medical skills in a manner consistent with his deeply-held pro-life religious beliefs. Before he made international headlines by separating conjoined twins, he had already earned respect as a competent practitioner who worked various wonders upon little children.

No, I am not entirely thrilled with Dr. Koop's AIDS education campaign, nor with his crusade against the tobacco industry (which did more damage to the individual tobacco farmers and farmworkers, and the urban and suburban convenience store businesses and restaurants and bars than it did to the tobacco industrial conglomerates). But this morning I did my usual 100 sit-ups, a feat made possible in part by the hernia repair Dr. Koop performed on me 40-something years ago when I was one of those children. As long as Dr. Koop's handiwork holds up, he stays on my list of heroes!


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