DR. KOOP: Failed to Disclose Ties to Latex Glove Makers
Former surgeon general Dr. C. Everett Koop failed to reveal his financial ties to a manufacturer of latex gloves when he testified in the House of Representatives this year that concerns about risks posed by the gloves were "borderline hysteria," the New York Times reports. A spokesperson for Koop has acknowledged that he signed a contract with latex glove maker WRP Corporation in 1994, and a WRP official confirmed that the relationship, under which Koop was paid more than $650,000 as a "spokesman," lasted until February 1997. In spring of 1997, Koop called the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to discuss a warning the institute was about to issue on the dangers of allergic reactions caused by powdered latex gloves. Koop said the warning's language was "way overstated" and that it could "cause more harm than good," but NIOSH went forward nonetheless. In March of this year, Koop testified before a House subcommittee that the dangers posed by the gloves were exaggerated. In neither case did he disclose his former financial relationship with the glove manufacturer. A lawyer for the medical safety advocacy group Healthcare Without Harm said that Koop's testimony was still being used in state Legislatures as an argument against restricting the use of the gloves, although "it was based on a study that was never done." Koop had told the House that his conclusions were based on a study by the CDC on latex gloves, but the study was actually paid for by another glove manufacturer. Koop said last month that he had been "misled" about the source of the report.
Koop's spokesperson said that it "never occurred" to him to disclose his contract with WRP because it had "nothing to do with" the company's latex division, but an expert on disclosure issues said that Koop had an "absolute obligation" to reveal his financial relationship to the glove maker because it "could be perceived to represent a bias." An official of the American Nurses Association went further, calling Koop's actions "wrong," while a physician and member of a group that tried to have powdered latex gloves banned from hospitals said, "Dr. Koop has absolutely no scientific basis for the position he has taken." Susan Wilburn of the American Nurses Association said, Koop "has given very powerful help to an industry whose product is harming health workers and patients." The ANA estimates 20,000 nurses have developed allergies to the gloves (Noble, New York Times, 10/29).