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Surgeon General in Garden Grove : Focus the AIDS Battle on Drug Users, Koop Urges

September 21, 1987|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

The spread of AIDS could be contained in the United States if prevention and education efforts were aimed at intravenous drug users, U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said Sunday in Garden Grove's Crystal Cathedral.

"If we could somehow contain the rampant abuse of intravenous drugs or drug addicts who share their needles and pass on the AIDS virus, we could stop AIDS," the nation's top public health officer said in an interview with the Rev. Robert Schuller, pastor of the Evangelical Christian congregation.

"The people who are infected would go on . . . and die, but we would contain the epidemic," Koop told about 2,400 church-goers in the cavernous glass and steel cathedral.

Koop said sexual practices of homosexual and bisexual men started the spread of the disease, which, he noted, has no cure and is "100% fatal."

"Now, it is also coming both from the drug culture and homosexual culture through bisexuality into the heterosexual community," Koop said. But he said he does not envision an "explosion" of AIDS in the heterosexual community.

So far, more than 39,000 Americans have contracted AIDS since the disease was diagnosed in 1981 and more than 22,500 of them have died, federal health officials said. It is estimated that between 1 million and 1.5 million others have been infected with the AIDS virus.

Koop, whom Schuller described as a "very strong Christian lay person," likened the AIDS epidemic to that of biblical leprosy. "The leper was cast out of society. Today, those who have AIDS are cast out of society," he said, referring to the three Ray brothers, hemophiliacs who tested positive for the AIDS virus. They were banned from school and the family's home in rural Florida was burned down.

"Many homosexuals are not only cast out of society, but cast out from their own families."

Koop called on Evangelical Christians--who believe they are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ--to "demonstrate Christian witness and care for people who can't find it anyplace else."

Asked what he thought the Bible taught about sexual life styles, Koop told Schuller that monogamy within marriage is the "only biblically acceptable form of sexual behavior. . . ."

Christian Perspectives

Nonetheless, he said, Christians are taught: "You can hate the sin, but you must love the sinner."

Koop also responded to criticisms from fundamentalist Christians about his outspoken crusade to educate the public--particularly elementary-school children--about AIDS.

"I think my Christian friends felt my response (to AIDS) should have been to bash the homosexuals, to condemn people--not to mention anything like the sex education of young people and of course never mention the word condom. Now my belief as a public health officer is that I must separate the homosexual behavior, the heterosexual promiscuity and drug abuse from the fact that I'm dealing with American citizens who are dying and who need my care."

He restated his opinion that "the only weapon we have against AIDS is education and you can't teach about AIDS until you know your own sexuality."

Koop said he regrets that he has become associated with "condom mania"--the proliferation of condom advertising and sales. Sexual abstinence is the only sure way to avoid the AIDS virus, he said. "That's good advice for young people, AIDS or no AIDS. The rest of us can fall back on mutually faithful, monogamous relationships."

'Sign of the Times'

For those who do not, Koop urged, "For heaven's sake, use a condom."

Church-goers were neither shocked nor surprised Sunday at Koop's message.

"It's a sign of the times right now," said church member Warren Wilcox, 30, of Laguna Niguel. "For the most part, people who belong to this church are very open and forward thinking."

"In this case, it's important to be blunt," said Jessie Ward, 75, of Downey, an 18-year member of the church.

"It was terrific, the way he spoke," said Manuel Hernandez, 65, of Westminster, who has belonged to the church for six years. "It's something we need to hear. We can help each other to solve the problems."

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