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Michael Gerson: Standing for the human race

BY MICHAEL GERSON Published: March 6, 2013

When the document was eventually absorbed — with its precise anatomical details and recommendations of condom use and early sex education — it was the turn of conservatives for the vapors. But Koop further conspired to have a brochure containing similar information distributed to the entire IRS mailing list of 107 million households.

An inner consistency

Some of the tributes to Koop have run along the lines that his “personal moral views never clouded his judgment” — as though he championed public health in spite of his religiously informed morality. This misses his remarkable inner consistency. “My whole career had been dedicated to prolonging lives,” he said, “especially the lives of people who were weak and powerless, the disenfranchised who needed an advocate: newborns who needed surgery, handicapped children, unborn children … and people with AIDS.” A passion for human dignity remains ideologically unpredictable.

And Koop understood — as some of his co-religionists still don't — that public health is the realm of likely behavior. “Total abstinence for everyone is not realistic,” he explained, “and I'm not ready to give up on the human race quite yet.” So he spoke for condom use as well as monogamy.

In preventing the spread of AIDS, compassion requires both universal sympathy and realism about human conduct. No one deserves his or her disease. And no one at risk — sympathetic or marginalized — is beyond our practical concern, including intravenous drug users, sex workers, men who have sex with men, and children born of infected parents.

This moral affirmation is no longer particularly revolutionary — in part because Koop refused to give up on the human race.



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