Lives of the fellows

Lodewijk Benedictus Joannes Stuyt

b.16 June 1914 d.30 October 2000
MD Amsterdam(1947) FRCP(1973)

Louis Stuyt saw it all: the clinic, war, the political arena, the management office and the temple of science. He was the first physician in the Netherlands to leave the hospital for the post of Minister of Health in the national government.

He was born in Amsterdam. His father was an architect and his mother the daughter of a French diplomat. From elementary and high school in The Hague, he went on to medical school in Leyden and for clinical training to the hospital of the University of Amsterdam. He specialized in internal medicine and qualified in 1947.

His teacher was the famous professor Jacobus Borst, who familiarized a whole generation of Dutch physicians with the principles of clinical science. Louis defended his thesis in 1947, on the subject of the lymph gland.

He had a sense of adventure and a keen interest in the world. In 1948, he left for Surabaja to become the chief of the medical department of the Royal Naval Hospital as fulfilment of his military service. Those were the days when the Dutch Indies was fighting for independence. Louis was already used to turbulent times, having been a member of the resistance movement 'Medical Contact' during the Second World War. His work in the Far East earned him the De Ruyter medal, named after the admiral whose fleet crushed the chain spanning the Thames at Chatham in one of the sea wars between England and Holland.

In 1950 he returned to the Netherlands and in 1951 he accepted the position of chief of the medical department of Westeinde, a big inner city hospital in The Hague.

He married Eliane van Ryckevorsel van Kessel, descendant of ancient nobility. They had three sons. For two decades he was a clinician and nothing else. In 1962 he became a member of the Health Council of the Netherlands, a prestigious body to which he was to return later. His input to the Council's work mainly concerned smallpox vaccination.

Louis was acquainted with highly placed politicians, through social circles in The Hague, but was politically inactive himself. In 1971 he was asked by the new Prime Minister Biesheuvel to join his cabinet as minister of health and environmental protection. He quickly joined the Catholic Party and embarked on a political career that lasted for two years until the government fell.

He is best remembered during this period as the person who decided that contraceptives were to be freely available through the Dutch version of the National Health Service. Although offered the same post by the next prime minister, Louis left the political arena, which never suited him anyway.

In 1974 he was appointed chairman of the board of directors of TNO, a national organization for applied research including defence, health, traffic, consumer safety and many other issues.

In 1980, at the age at which people in the Netherlands become pensioners, he left TNO, but did not settle down. He was appointed extraordinary member of the State Council. This body of wise elderly statesmen and stateswomen advises the government on the quality of legislation.

Back to the Health Council of the Netherlands. This 100 year old Council, with on average 60 ongoing committees with a total membership of about 600 scientists, advises the government on the 'state of the art' with regard to health and environmental issues. Topics range from the effects of mobile telephones, to heart transplantation, in vitro fertilization, to the medical use of cannabis. The Health Council can be compared with the Institute of Medicine in the United States. It combines functions that in the UK are spread across the Royal Colleges, the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

The key person in the Health Council is the president. That position was vacant in 1983 and there were concerns among the medical-scientific community that the post might go to a politician. To gain time the minister of health appointed Louis Stuyt, then almost 69 years old, as interim president. Louis did the job so amiably and expertly that all concerned chose to forget that the Health Act sets an upper age limit of 70 for the president of the Health Council. With this silently accepted infraction of the law Louis turned from interim to full president and did not leave office until he was over 71.

Louis continued his adventures, flying dangerous planes above Burkina Faso, advising the local authorities in Indonesia and in other far-away places. He also continued playing tennis. And in his comfortable apartment in The Hague he enjoyed his renowned collection of Byzantine icons.

He was a pious Catholic and was awarded the Pope's Commander Order St Gregorius. The French also recognized his achievements by awarding him the Chevalier L├ęgion d'Honneur. Last but not least, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, no mean thing for someone from the Netherlands.

Henk Rigter

(Volume XI, page 564)

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