In "AIDS: What the Doctors Can't Do" {op-ed, Oct. 17}, Ellen Goodman said "talking about AIDS is a job for civilians. The battery of educators, journalists and public-health officials is crucial for leadership and backup. But No. 1 among the civilians are parents."

She is absolutely correct. Basic values education, sex education and AIDS education are parental responsibilities. Our role as educators, journalists and public-health officials is to educate parents about sex and AIDS and remind them of their responsibility to teach young people in the context of their own value systems. Most parents think that sex education should be done at home. I agree, and when I practiced medicine, parents agreed with me 100 percent. But most of them, I have to confess, never did more than agree with me.

Parents are uncomfortable with the science of reproduction. They feel that discussion of sex is an invasion of privacy -- their own as well as that of the child. And their parents didn't discuss it with them. Parents must be encouraged to get over these barriers and approach their children with the kind of sex education that deals with relationships between men and women that are loving, caring, respectful, tolerant and responsible.

The excellent Goodman column also brings to mind the tremendous support that the nation's journalists, educators, health professionals and religious and community leaders have provided in the war against AIDS since the Surgeon General's Report on AIDS was issued a year ago. Continuing this level of support will bring the values and information to all our young people, and the tide of AIDS infection will be contained. C. EVERETT KOOP U.S. Surgeon General Washington