In the late 1970s, he wrote "The Right to Live, the Right to Die," arguing passionately against abortion and in favor of rights for infants born with severe birth defects. With Christian activist Francis Schaeffer, he made a series of films called "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?" The films argued that abortion was the first step on a slippery slope that could lead eventually to genocide.
He lived up to his word, surprising and delighting his early critics — and angering conservatives who had initially supported him — by applying a scrupulous public health approach to every policy issue that confronted him, regardless of his personal views.
In 1987, Reagan directed him to prepare a report outlining the adverse effects of abortion on a woman's health. By 1989, he concluded that there were no good scientific studies one way or the other, notified Reagan of his findings and ordered his staff to drop the report. Ultimately, however, the report was issued under his name without his approval and its release led in part to his early resignation from the post in 1989.
In 1991, he received an Emmy award in the news and documentary category for a five-part TV series on healthcare reform.
Koop was an advisor to President Clinton's health-reform efforts and served as chairman of the National Safe Kids Campaign. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 for his public health efforts and received numerous other awards.
In 1997, Koop established a website called drkoop.com to provide health information to the public. Although an initial public offering made Koop a wealthy man, the site was criticized for mixing health information with paid advertisements without clearly distinguishing between them. The site went bankrupt in 2001.
The company ultimately settled a lawsuit by investors claiming that it had made them false promises. Koop also made a series of health-related videos, sold in pharmacies, that were not particularly successful.
Koop's wife of 68 years, the former Elizabeth Flanagan, died in 2007. He is survived by his second wife, the former Cora Hogue, three children from his first marriage, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Maugh and Cimons are former Times staff writers.