The White House is expected to nominate Dr. C. Everett Koop as surgeon general of the United States in a matter of days, assuring a revival on Capitol Hill of the controversy over the Philadelphia children's surgeon and warrior against abortion.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently forwarded Koop's nomination papers to the White House and is "absolutely certain" he will be named, HHS spokesman Laura Genero said yesterday.
A confirmation hearing by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee will be held this month, but no earlier than Sept. 15, said Steven A. Grossman, the panel's majority health counsel.
A major focus of the hearing will be Koop's professional qualifications for the post, in which he would be the official adviser to the public on health matters. He already is deputy assistant secretary under Dr. Edward N. Brandt, who is the top government policy-making physician and whose anti-abortion views are virtually identical to Koop's.
"I expect they'll find him pretty solid" and "qualified," Grossman said. Similarly, Genero said that Koop, famous for his operations to separate joined twins, has "many professional qualifications." His work with international relief organizations equipped him with a "quite extensive background in dealing with international public health problems, including famine and dysentery, she said.
By contrast, an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), the committee's senior Democrat, said that Koop has "never grappled with public health policy questions."
"We do not regard this as a routine kind of appointment," the aide said. He said the hearing will enable major public health organizations, not just Koop, to be questioned about whether he is "professionally qualified by virtue of his training to assume major public health responsibilities." The American Public Health Association opposes Koop because he has no training in public health or preventive medicine.
Only after the hearing ends will Kennedy decide whether the evidence on Koop's qualifications merits the senator's support or opposition, the aide said.
Koop arrived at HHS before his boss, Brandt, who was confirmed without fuss, but Koop's nomination as surgeon general was entangled by an age limit for the post of 64 -- the age Koop reached last October. Congress resolved the problem July 31 when it eliminated the age limit in a rider to the budget reconciliation bill. Koop's job as deputy assistant secretary did not require Senate confirmation.
While the problem was awaiting resolution, women's groups and others criticized Koop's condemnations of legalized abortion, which, he has said, could lead in the future to the compulsory killing of defective babies and sick old people.