WASHINGTON — Surgeon General C. Everett Koop on Wednesday urged defeat of Proposition 64 in California, saying its passage on the Nov. 4 ballot would "drive the very people you are trying to help to another part of the world."
Koop spoke with reporters about the controversial AIDS initiative as his long-awaited report on acquired immune deficiency syndrome was released to the public. In the report, he calls for AIDS sex education as early as elementary school and opposes measures such as compulsory testing for exposure to the AIDS virus, quarantine or tattooing of infected individuals.
When asked about Proposition 64, Koop predicted that it would be "very, very difficult to enforce" and said it probably would cause people to leave California to avoid the consequences of being identified as carriers of the AIDS virus. "You can easily cross state lines," he said.
Driving potentially infected individuals underground would "get them out of the mainstream of treatment and out of the mainstream of education," he said.
Proposal Under Fire
Proposition 64, initiated by followers of political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., would classify people infected with the virus as suffering from a "communicable disease" and would bar anyone who tests positive for exposure to AIDS from schools and from jobs that involve handling food. Public health officials have said repeatedly that passage would seriously hamper efforts to contain the epidemic.
"I know that every public health authority who has examined (the proposition) has taken the opposing point of view," Koop said. "It seems like it is something that should be defeated."
Brian Lantz, co-author of the initiative, called Koop's remarks "totally incompetent from a medical standpoint" and demanded that the surgeon general and other health officials "put themselves forward in a responsible fashion to do what's required to deal with this deadly disease."
Lantz said that Reagan Administration officials "have simply not wanted to spend the money" for "classic public health measures such as testing and quarantine."
Koop Report Praised
Meanwhile, homosexual and civil rights groups and others praised Koop's AIDS report, which urges compassion for the nation's estimated 12,000 AIDS patients, most of whom are homosexual or bisexual men or users of intravenous drugs.
The report emphasizes that the disease, which cripples the body's immune system, is transmitted only by intimate sexual contact or use of contaminated hypodermic needles and cannot be spread through casual contacts. (A copy of the report can be obtained by writing to AIDS, P.O. Box 14252, Washington, D.C. 20044.)
"It represents a sensible and compassionate approach to AIDS, and we heartily endorse his call for broader public education and his opposition to quarantine and other coercive measures," said Jeff Levi, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Nan Hunter, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who specializes in AIDS issues, said she hopes that the report "will put to rest the kind of panic that has been fueling support for the LaRouche initiative."
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, praised Koop and said: "The surgeon general has made clear the overwhelming consensus of medical and public health professionals--that the best way to slow the AIDS epidemic is to teach people how it is spread and how to avoid it."