It really is a small world! But a very valuable one!
At the invitation of friends, John and Betty Whitaker, I recently visited the city of Washington. A former aide to two American presidents, John had very thoughtfully arranged guided tours of the White House, the Capitol, and other prominent attractions for his Canadian visitor.
In addition, he had asked what else I might like to see. As a member of the pro-life movement, I mentioned an interest in making a brief visit to the National Right-To-Life office, to meet the dedicated staff who have been working so tirelessly for the protection of human life. John responded, “And I’ll bet you’d like also to meet the government Surgeon-General, pro-life Dr. Everett Koop!”
Arriving in Washington, I learned that – although John did not know the Surgeon-General – he had taken the liberty of arranging a fifteen-minute appointment for me to meet Dr. Koop, a renowned pediatric surgeon prior to his government appointment to the top national and international public medical post.
Although it seemed presumptuous of a tourist from Yarmouth to take the time of the busy Surgeon-General, as an admirer of Koop’s highly-acclaimed medical and pro-life record and writings, I felt strongly inclined to accept the offer. And then I seriously wondered what he and I might discuss, beyond the niceties of our mutual pro-life interests.
With much hesitation I arrived at the government high-rise medical department, employing 39,000 people across the United States.
Despite his busy schedule, to my amazement Dr. Koop seemed particularly interested to greet me. Within minutes, however, his reason became clear. He did not know me, or specifically why as a pro-lifer I had come to meet him, but – with a telling smile – took much obvious pleasure in surprising me with the fact that his maternal grandmother had been Nellie Trefry from Arcadia. Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia.
Reminiscing, he continued that he himself had very fond memories of the 10 summers he had spent in Arcadia as a young boy, far away from the heat of Brooklyn, New York. Than he added, “I feel that I learned the most valuable lessons of my early life in Arcadia. Yarmouth County!” With his very prominent pro-life convictions, he was presumably referring at least in part to the roots of his profound respect for human life. With a twinkle in his eye he remarked, “You know, if you’d been from some other place you might have had difficulty getting in here, but when I learned you were from Yarmouth you were especially welcome!”
Continuing our conversation, he recounted some of his pro-life experiences. Before being appointed Surgeon-General six years ago, Koop had been a pediatric surgeon for 35 years at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital, the sixth physician in the United States to devote all his surgical skills to children, and had practiced that specialty longer than any other physician. Reflecting on his career, he told me that he had operated on more newborn babies, with congenital defects incompatible with life, but nevertheless, amenable to surgical correction, than any other surgeon in this hemisphere.
I could not help but conclude that – with his medical knowledge and experience – his views on human life deserve attention. He knows whereof he speaks on the topic of human life – and on abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, which he describes as three inhumanities reminiscent of the Nazi era.
With an amiable, strong personality, and a keen sense of humour, it is obvious from conversation that Koop’s very deep concern for human life is based in the Judeo-Christian tradition. And at 70, he appears dynamic and untiring in his commitment to life.
In turn, I was happy to inform him of the coincidence that Canada’s dynamic and dedicated national Alliance-For-Life President, Edgar Newell of Truro, also had spent his early years in Yarmouth County – and very near Koop’s Arcadia. It seems significant that two such prominent pro-life leaders both attribute their values concerning life to their early years in Yarmouth County.
As I left Dr. Koop’s office he handed me a copy of his perceptive book Whatever Happened to the Human Race? co-authored with well-known Protestant theologian Francis Schaeffer. My fifteen-minute appointment had extended to an exciting sixty minutes, with a hope expressed by Dr. Koop to visit Arcadia and Yarmouth sometime in the near future.
When one considers the approximately 1,700 abortions now performed annually in Nova Scotia hospital – approved by committees of doctors – one wonders what had led to the change in our province which just a few short years ago taught Dr. Koop, Ed Newell, and many others so passionately to value and respect human life.
Peter Eldrige, a resident of Yarmouth, is Vice-President of the provincial Council-For-Life, Nova Scotia.