Americans will long remember the life of Dr. C. Everett Koop, former US surgeon general, who passed away in 2013 at 96. He was trained as a pediatric surgeon, and reports of his death often mentioned that he prayed at the bed of his young patients, ignoring the snickers of some of his colleagues. Why?
"It used to be said in World War II that there were no atheists in foxholes," he wrote in 1973. "I have found there are very few atheists among the parents of dying children. This is a time when religious faith can see a family through trying circumstances."
C. Everett Koop
Although raised Baptist, he was drawn to the Presbyterian church, where he developed an abiding faith. Koop believed the church has always been the safety net for the ill, adding that the original hospitals were Christian, as were hospices and orphanages.
“A remnant of that still remains,” he said, “but after 1964 Medicare and Medicaid changed the entire climate of social help. With these two programs we thought everyone, no matter how old or poor, was entitled to some kind of health insurance. This led churches to say, ‘Hey, we’re not necessary any longer.’ That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“It’s becoming easier to integrate faith and healing today than in the past,” he explained in a 1998 interview, recalling that “in the sixties and seventies students and nurses who talked about their faith were reprimanded. Today, the popularity of mind-body medicine has made faith and prayer very acceptable, opening the door for Christians in medicine to share their faith.”
Fellow physician and neurosurgeon David Levy agrees with Koop. In his book “Gray Matter: A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer…One Patient at a Time” he writes, “As I have addressed patients’ spirituality and made prayer a regular part of patient interactions, the response has been impressive. I have seen lives brought to a level of spiritual, emotional and physical health that my patients had never enjoyed before.” (Tyndale House Publishers, 2011, page 11)