“If you don’t play marbles yourself, you shouldn’t interfere with the rules of the game,” gynecologist Piet Rhemrev said in a TV program to Father Koopman, a militant opponent of abortion. In the 1970s, Rhemrev stood up for women who demanded to be in charge and who wanted to have the choice of having an unwanted pregnancy terminated.
He was busy day and night. In the Elisabeth Gasthuis in Heemstede (today’s Spaarne Gasthuis in Haarlem), as an advocate for contraceptives, as a promoter at home and abroad of an IUD co-invented by him and as chairman of child protection.
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He covered doctors who illegally aborted in the Bloemenhove clinic. If there were complications, they would send the women to his practice. Conflicts with the then Minister of Justice Dries van Agt, who wanted to enforce the ban on abortion, were smoothed out by contacts from his student days.
Together with a colleague, he developed a copper IUD, a contraceptive that the multiload was named. They got the idea when they heard that camel drivers put a copper-containing stone in the wombs of their camels to prevent pregnancy during long desert rides.
Farm in Meerhout
In 1979 Rhemrev paid the price for his hard work, he suffered a massive heart attack after a game of tennis. An open heart operation and seven bypasses later, he radically changed course: he left with his wife Greetje and their five children to a dilapidated farm in Meerhout in Belgium. He learned to pour concrete, masonry, weld and erect fences, renovated the farm and started farming.
Together with his wife he created a paradise where nature could take its course. They kept horses, sheep, geese and dogs. They did not mow a meadow so that insects and butterflies could run their course and pheasants, roe deer and birds of prey felt at home. They left a pile of wood because there was a marten in it.
It soon became known that he was a doctor. For example, it could happen that a fellow villager who came to ask for medical advice was referred back to the stable. There he found Rhemrev in overalls, clogs and with a dung fork in hand. His broad grin quickly broke the ice.
Crocodile or shark
As the son of a general practitioner in Java, who was married to a totok (white woman) he grew up with one leg in the jungle. A cheeky monkey and a panther were his pets. In the surf of a bay he surfed on worn tires. From a tall tree, an uncle kept an eye out. He would whistle if he saw a crocodile or shark.
In 1942 war broke out with Japan and 11-year-old Piet was imprisoned in a boys’ camp and later another camp. He was beaten with sticks by screaming Japanese, who despised him for his dark skin.
Rhemrev broke the silence about this when his daughter, the actress Loulou, and her husband, theater maker Folmer Overdiep, inquired about it. Loulou: ‘He never stopped telling. The tiger, hidden in him, came back to life.’ It resulted in the performance Hello Bandung!which Loulou still performs.
In recent years the Rhemrevs lived in The Hague, they wanted to live close to a hospital because his heart had started playing again. He took part in an experiment that gave him a year. A second step was not possible because there was no surgery during the covid period. He devised another treatment, which gave him an extra year.
Rhemrev died on August 14, he was 90 years old. Loulou: ‘My father was not afraid of anything and had great perseverance. His experiences in the Japanese camps had made him indestructible.’