Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

“Exposing the Poor to Experiment”

Libelous words2In 1921 Halliday Sutherland’s book Birth Control: A Statement of Christian Doctrine Against the Neo-Malthusians was published. The book had originated from an article he wrote for The Month (a Catholic magazine). Following a discussion with a priest, Father Joseph Keating, S.J., Sutherland developed the article into a book whilst on holiday in Inverness, Scotland.

The words that led to the Stopes v Sutherland libel trial of 1923.

The book included a passage which led to a writ for libel from Marie Stopes and led to the “Birth Control Libel Trial” of 1923. It read:

“Exposing the Poor to Experiment…

“…In the midst of a London slum a woman, who is a doctor of German philosophy (Munich), has opened a Birth Control Clinic, where working women are instructed in a method of contraception described by Professor McIlroy as ‘The most harmful method of which I have had experience’. When we remember that millions are being spent by the Ministry of Health and by Local Authorities – on pure milk for necessitous expectant and nursing mothers, on Maternity Clinics to guard the health of mothers before and after childbirth, for the provision of skilled midwives, and on Infant Welfare Centres – it is truly amazing that this monstrous campaign of birth control should be tolerated by the Home Secretary. Charles Bradlaugh was condemned to jail for a less serious crime.”

Below I have commented on the phrases, provided the context for them and explained how they played out in the trial.

“Exposing the Poor to Experiment.”

The allegation that a person experiments on humans is, generally speaking, a damaging one. The allegation had been made on occasions by eugenists about doctors. For instance, in 1898, Dr John Haycraft, speaking to the Royal College of Physicians on Darwinism and Race Progress, said:

“Preventative medicine is trying a unique experiment, and the effect is already discernible – race decay.” (Pearce, 2010)

Another example was Karl Pearson’s lecture on Tuberculosis, Heredity and Environment in 1912, in which he had criticised doctors working to treat and cure tuberculosis:

“I have no hesitation in asserting that every one of them must be wrong morally…for this simple reason, that they were propounded and widely taught without adequate investigation of the facts. Being right is no excuse whatever for holding an opinion which has not been based on any adequate consideration of the facts involved in it. Admit that sanatorium treatment is purely experimental, admit that dispensaries are another experiment, and that tuberculin is still another and perhaps more hazardous one, and there is nothing more to be said than the words: ‘Experiment, but record your observations in such manner that the trained mind can ultimately measure their bearing on human welfare.’ But experiment on human beings is held in itself to be reprehensible. This does not mean that it is not being made day by day; it means simply that it is screened, and the experimental treatment is described as the most efficient and certain cure for human ills. Such description not only disguises its experimental character, but often hides its true nature from the experimenter, who forgets the necessity for adequate records to test the value of his work. That has been largely the case in the modern treatment of phthisis.” (Pearson, 1912) (emphasis added) 

Sutherland was almost certainly aware of Pearson’s lecture. In describing Stopes’ work as an experiment, it is likely that Sutherland was seeking to repay the favour. Now that he had used the word and had been served with a writ for defamation, he had to justify its use.

To this end, Sutherland’s barrister, Mr Ernest Charles K.C., questioned Stopes on a passage in Wise Parenthood in which, according to Rose,  “she had written that the cap (the rubber check pessary) could be left in safely for several days or even weeks.”

‘Some women put in the cap when the monthly period has entirely ceased and leave it in for three weeks. I am not sure that to leave the cap in so long is quite advisable.’

When pressed on the point Marie repeated that she was not quite sure. ‘You are not sure whether it is advisable or not, but you advise people to use them: is that pretty nearly experiment?’ asked Mr Charles.

“Marie turned to the Judge to explain. ‘You see, my Lord, these caps were invented in 1881 by a medical man and they have been used under supervision since 1881; that is over forty years they have been used and used successfully; and to ask me now if it is an experiment to suggest that what has been in general use for over forty years, I can only answer it seems a ridiculous suggestion.’” (Rose, 1992)

Later the defence cited Stopes’ enthusiasm for the gold pin as evidence. Stopes had heard reports of the efficacy of this device and she had asked Dr Norman Haire (a Malthusian doctor who rented a consulting room from Sutherland) to fit the gold pin for her clients. Haire refused:

“Dr Haire…was alarmed to learn that the gold pin was unreliable, that if conception did occur it was always followed by an abortion, usually within two or three months and that the device caused irregular and profuse menstruation and sometimes inflammation of the cervix and body of the uterus.” (Rose, 1992)

Haire was adamant that he would not fit it for health and ethical reasons, but Stopes pressed ahead and sent two women to him for this purpose. These women had not attended her clinic, but had made enquiries through the post. The episode was brought up in the court room:

“Asked in court whether Haire had told her he would not use the pin because it produced an abortion, Stopes answered: ‘On the contrary, Dr Haire came to my clinic personally and asked me to send him subjects for the gold pin.’ Stopes had lied to the court under oath, and it annoyed Haire. Following a subpoena from the defence, Dr Haire came to court to read out Stopes’ letter to him.” (Rose, 1992)

“In the midst of a London slum”

Stopes’ free mothers clinic had been opened on 17th March 1921 at 61, Marlborough Road, Holloway an impoverished part of London at that time.

“a doctor of German philosophy (Munich)”

Sutherland was pointing out that Stopes’ title of “doctor” related to philosophy, not medicine and was perhaps seeking to harness anti-German sentiment given that the First World War was a recent memory at the time. That said, however, medical doctors did not have expertise about birth control.

“The medical profession was still lamentably ignorant about birth control. ‘The doctor is not familiar with the scientific aspects of contraception and there is no easily accessible literature,’ the Lancet commented in 1921.” (Rose, 1992 p.162)

Stopes had a disparaging view of the medical profession. In Birth Control, Sutherland had quoted her letter to the Sussex Daily News as the President of the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress and which can be seen below:

Libelous words3

Sutherland had described the letter as a “malignant attack” on the medical profession, which it was. Even today, those attending the clinics of Dr Marie could be forgiven for thinking that the “Dr” refers to medicine rather than philosophy.

“has opened a Birth Control Clinic”

Birth control was a controversial issue in the inter-war years. One issue was that people worried about the impact it would have on public morality. Another was that Britain’s birth rate had peaked at 36.3 births per thousand in 1876, dropping twenty-one percent by the end of 1901, and nearly thirty-four percent by the outbreak of the war in 1914. If this trend continued, Britain would not have a population sufficient in numbers or calibre to maintain the Empire, particularly given the challenges it faced at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

The Malthusians welcomed the decreasing birth rate, recognising that the population had doubled since 1800 and seeing an increasing population as the cause of shortages, conflict and disease.

Eugenists were concerned, alarmed even, at “national deterioration” and “race suicide” that Britain would not have sufficient people of the right calibre to maintain its Empire, particularly in the face of increased competition from other powers whose populations were growing. According to Richard A. Soloway in his 1996 Galton Lecture, first generation eugenists, including its founder Sir Francis Galton, had serious concerns

“that birth control was already leading to smaller families among the educated and most successful sectors of society. These were people who presumably were endowed with the required personal qualities of foresight, discipline and self-control that contraceptive strategies required and that the labouring poor did not possess. In other words, birth control was already dysgenic as the class characteristics of the plummeting birth-rate indicated. Its continued adoption was likely to exacerbate differential fertility and compound the dangers of race suicide. Despite mounting pressure within the Society to recognise that ‘all realistic eugenic proposals come down to birth control in this country,’ Major Darwin [Charles Darwin’s son] continued to find it a ‘delicate and difficult issue,’ and expressed the fear that ‘birth limitation will not be adopted voluntarily by the inferior types, and there is considerable danger of its remaining a dysgenic influence.'” (Soloway, 1995)

The Eugenic Education Society discussed birth control in the early months of 1921 and “concluded that there was little interest in birth control, and the working class would never adopt it. Stopes…pronounced the conclusions as ‘preposterous'”. There was a falling out and it led to Stopes establishing her own eugenic organisation, the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress to run the clinic.

Sutherland opposed the use of contraceptives on the grounds of his Catholicism as well as on the grounds of his dislike of eugenic and Malthusian ideology. Catholic methods of birth control included a familiarisation with the fertility cycle and abstinence at the appropriate time.

Sutherland knew G.K. Chesterton who had described Social Darwinism as “the survival of the nastiest”. His dislike of eugenics initially arose when it became a major obstacle to the treatment and cure of tuberculosis, and later as he saw the totalitarian direction that eugenic ideas led to – a slave state where the individual and personal choice became subservient to the efficiency of the state.

Sutherland saw Malthusianism as quackery. It provided an explanation for the Irish famine, blaming prolific Irish families and and an over-reliance on the potato crop, yet ignored that virtually all food other than potatoes was exported from the Irish colony to England itself.  Malthusianism had justified the inaction of the British government when faced with famines in Ireland between 1845-52. Sutherland’s opposition to Malthusianism in his book will be covered in a later post of this blog.

“When we remember that millions are being spent by the Ministry of Health and by Local Authorities…”

This passage echoes Stopes’ words in Chapter 20 of Radiant Motherhood, in which she had written:

“Doctors may cure every disease known to humanity, but while they are so doing, fresh diseases, further modifications of destructive germs, may spring into existence, the possibility of which has recently been demonstrated by French scientists.

Prisons and reformatories, municipal milk, the feeding of school children, improvement in housing, reform of our marriage laws, schools for mothers, even schools for fathers, garden cities – not all these useful and necessary things together and many more added to them will ever touch the really profound sources of our race, will ever cause freedom from degeneracy and ill health, will ever create that fine, glorious, and beautiful race of men and women which hovers in the dreams of our reformers. Is this dream out of reach and impossible; are then all our efforts wasted? No, the dream is not impossible of fulfilment; but, at present, our efforts are almost entirely wasted because they are built on the shifting sand and not upon the steady rock.”

“the most harmful method of which I have had experience”

Professor Anne McIlroy addressed a meeting of the Medico-Legal Society on 7th July 1921 which Sutherland had attended and in which she said:

“the most harmful method of which I have experience is the use of the pessary”

A few months earlier McIlroy had been appointed “consulting obstetrician and gynecological surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital and became the first woman professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal Free Hospital school of medicine, University of London”. (Pitt, 2004) (Note: Someone described McIlroy’s appointment as “an unwelcome experiment” given that she was a woman and had trained outside London. That word again!)

McIlroy was an expert that Sutherland would draw on and, in the trial, she gave evidence in his defence, confirming the dangers of the pessary, which she had based upon the occlusion of the womb leading to infection. Remember that penicillin was not discovered until 1928 and not widely available until long after that. Sepsis was a serious threat.

McIlroy was cross-examined by Mr Hastings K.C. who acted for Stopes. Here is part of their exchange:

“Hastings: Now I want to deal with the question of the particular contraceptive for the moment. Have you ever had a case of a woman who has worn one of these pessaries?

“McIlroy: I have never met a woman yet who was able to fit on the pessary.

“Hastings: I wonder whether you could answer my question: have you ever met a case yet of a woman who has worn one?

“McIlroy: No.

“Hastings: So that all you have been telling us at some length in answer to the Mr Charles about the dangers of this is based upon practical experience that does not include one single case of that being worn?

“McIlroy: My remarks have been based on the experience of occlusion (obstruction) of the womb.

“Hastings: Quite; but was my question accurate, that it is all based upon experience which does not include one single case where it has been worn?

“McIlroy: It is not necessary to have a single case.

“Hastings: The answer is that my question was accurately framed and the answer would be yes?

“McIlroy: It is not necessary to have a single case.

“Hastings: When I say it would be yes, perhaps I may say it should be yes?

“McIlroy: I do not know.

“Hastings: I do not think I will trouble you any more about that.

“The Lord Cief Justice: I understood her to say: ‘True, I have not met a woman who wore a check pessary and had an occlusion of the womb and it is on that experience, not upon my experience of the check pessary, that my evidence is based.’ Is that what you say?

“McIlroy: Yes, my Lord.

“Hastings: I am much obliged to your Lordship, I quite accept that, but that was not, if I may so so with respect, the point of my question. My question was, let me see if I am quite right, Miss McIlroy, that you never had a case of a woman who has worn one of these check pessaries?

“McIlroy: No.

“Hastings: That is all I want. (Rose, 1992)

“Charles Bradlaugh was condemned to jail for a less serious crime”

BradlaughIn 1877, Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant had re-published The Fruits of Philosophy – an American Malthusian tract – in Britain. The original document had “advocated and gave explicit information about contraceptive methods”. In the British version, Bradlaugh and Besant had added a subtitle: An Essay on the Population Question and a preface which included the statement: “we believe, with the Rev. Mr. Malthus, that population has a tendency to increase faster than the means of existence, and that some checks must therefore exercise control over population.”

Malthusians (who described themselves as “Neo-Malthusians” in Edwardian times) were aware that the population of Britain had doubled over the past one-hundred years and that the “natural laws” discovered by Malthus predicted shortages, conflict, starvation and disease.  Their concern about the need to curb an increase in the population was shared with the Eugenists, though they differed in one important respect: The Neo-Malthusians sought to prevent further increase in the population, while the Eugenists sought to improve the quality of the “racial stock” by preventing the increase in population of the lower orders and increasing the population of the better sort of person. In other words, quantity against quality.

Stopes was a member of both the Malthusian League and the Eugenics Education Society.

In stating that “Charles Bradlaugh was condemned to jail for a lesser crime,”: Sutherland was echoing an article in the Daily Express in which he had written that Stopes should be jailed.

WitcopShortly before the Stopes v. Sutherland trial opened in the High Court in February 1923, Guy Aldred and Rose Witcop were tried for selling copies of Margaret Sanger’s Family Limitation. The magistrate ruled that it was obscene and ordered that copies be destroyed. Bertrand Russell the Vice-President of Stopes Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress asked her to support a fighting fund for an appeal, but Stopes refused. Russell resigned in protest. An observer from the outside might argue that Stopes did not want to get involved publicly in supporting Aldred and Witcop as it might prejudice her case against Sutherland. Privately however, Stopes had written to the Director of Public Prosecutions “condemning Sanger’s pamphlet as ‘purient’ and the diagrams in it as obscene”. (Rose, 1992) In her biography of Stopes, June Rose wrote that she did this “perhaps to distance herself from the American propaganda” which is, in my opinion, a very generous interpretation for which she provides no evidence. Given that Stopes and Sanger had fallen out, Stopes likely had ulterior motives for her letter. Given that Stopes was stating privately, to no less a person than the Director of Public Prosecutions, what Sutherland had stated publicly, it was the act of a hypocrite.

“monstrous campaign of birth control”

Was Stopes’ campaign monstrous? To a contemporary reader, to whom “birth control” is synonymous with “contraceptives”, it is the act of calling birth control “monstrous” that is itself monstrous.

That said, at the time of the case “birth control” included the concept of eugenics.

“most historical studies position Western birth control campaigns as arising out of the women’s movement”…whereas the historical fact is that birth control campaigns at the time…“were primarily eugenic, rather than feminist, even if many of the leading figures were women. Birth control gained support largely through its representation as a tool for (white) racial progress and population control, rather than as an issue of women’s rights. Indeed, in the interwar years birth control and eugenics were so intertwined as to be synonymous.”
(Carey, 2012)

When the context of eugenics is included, the debate changes. Sir Francis Galton, the founder of modern eugenics, defined it as:

“the science which deals with all influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race; also with those that develop them to the utmost advantage” (Galton, 1904).

Developing the idea further, he stated:

“A considerable list of qualities can easily be compiled that nearly everyone except “cranks” would take into account when picking out the best specimens of his class. It would include health, energy, ability, manliness, and courteous disposition. Recollect that the natural differences between dogs are highly marked in all these respects., and that men are quite as variable by nature as other animals of like species. Special aptitudes would be assessed highly by those who possessed them, as the artistic faculties by artists, fearlessness of inquiry and veracity by scientists, religious absorption by mystics, and so on. There would be self-sacrificers, self-tormentors, and other exceptional idealists; but the representatives of these would be better members of a community than the body of their electors. They would have more of those qualities that are needed in a state–more vigor, more ability, and more consistency of purpose. The community might be trusted to refuse representatives of criminals, and of others whom it rates as undesirable.

“Let us for a moment suppose that the practice of eugenics should hereafter raise the average quality of our nation to that of its better moiety at the present day, and consider the gain. The general tone of domestic, social, and political life would be higher. The race as a whole would be less foolish, less frivolous, less excitable, and politically more provident than now. Its demagogues who “played” to the gallery” would play to a more sensible gallery than at present. We should be better fitted to fulfil our vast imperial opportunities. Lastly, men of an order of ability which is now very rare would become more frequent, because, the level out of which they rose would itself have risen.”

What was Stopes’ view?

Radiant MotherhoodStopes expressed her eugenic agenda frequently enough during her lifetime. An example was given in Chapter XX of Radiant Motherhood, entitled A New and Irradiated Race.

What are the greatest dangers which jeopardize the materialization of this glorious dream of a human stock represented only by well-formed, desired, well-endowed beautiful men and women? Two main dangers are in the way of its consummation; the first is ignorance. It is difficult to reach the untutored mind, to teach a public hardened and deadened to callousness and the lack of dreams of their own; even though if one of them could but reach them it would be possible to make them understand.

A second and almost greater danger is not a simple ignorance, but the inborn incapacity which lies in the vast and ever increasing stock of degenerate, feeble-minded and unbalanced who are now in out midst, and who devestate social customs. These populate most rapidly, these tend proportionately to increase and these are like the parasite upon the healthy tree sapping its vitality. These produce less than they consume and are able only to flourish and reproduce so long as the healthier produce food for them; but by ever weakening the human stock, in the end they will succumb with the fine structure which they have destroyed.

There appear then two obstacles which might block the materialization of my racial vision; on the one hand the ignorance of those who have latent powers. This only needs to be stirred by knowledge and the inspiration of an ideal, to become potent. This obstacle is not insurmountable. If one but speaks in sufficiently burning words, if one but writes sufficiently contagiously, the ideas must spread with ever increasing acceleration. Ignorance must be vanquished by winged knowledge. I hold it to be the duty of the dreamer of great dreams not only to express them in a way that cognate souls may also perceive them. It is the duty of a seer to embody his message in such a form that its beauty is apparent and the vision can be seen by all the people. The infectiousness of disease, the contagion of destructive and horrible bacterial germs have become commonplace.

A commonplace in our social consciousness, and we have forgotten, and our artists have in recent years tended ever more and more to forget that the highest form of art should also be infection. Goodness, beauty and prophetic vision have as strong a contagious quality as disease if they are embodied in a form rendered vital by the mating of truth of beauty. To overcome mere ignorance in others is, therefore by no means a hopeless task, and it is the valiant work of the artist-prophet. Youth I the tie to catch the contagion of goodness. To youth I appeal.

The other obstacle presents a deeper and more difficult task. It must deal with the terrible debasing power of the inferior, the depraved and feeble-minded, to whom reason means nothing, who are thriftless, unmanageable and appallingly prolific. Yet If the good of our race is not to be swamped and destroyed by the debased as the fine tree by the parasite, this prolific depravity must be curbed. How will this be done? A very few quite simple Acts of Parliament could deal with it.

Three short and concise Bills would be sufficient to afford the most urgent social service for the preservation of our race. They should be simply worded and based on possibilities well within the grasp of modern science.

The idea of sterelization has not yet been very generally understood or accepted, although it is an idea which our civilization urgently needs to assimilate. I think that a large part of the objections to it, often made passionately and eloquently by those from whom one would have expected a more intelligent attitude, is due to complete ignorance of the facts. Even otherwise instructed persons confuse sterelization with castration. The arguments which today in a chance discussion of the subject are always brought forward against sterelization have been, in my experience, only those which apply to castration. To castrate any male is, of course, not only to deprive him of his manhood and thus to injure his personal consciousness, but to remove bodily organs, the loss of which adversely affects his mentality and which will also affect the internal secretions which have a profound influence on his whole organization. I fully endorse the views of the opponents of this process.

It is, however, neither necessary to castrate nor is it suggested by those who like myself, would like to see the sterelization of those unfit for parenthood made an immediate possibility, indeed made compulsory. As Dr Havelock Ellis stated in an article in the Eugenics Review, Vol. I, No 3, October 1909, pp.203-206, sterelization under proper conditions is a very different and much simpler matter and one which has no deleterious and far reaching effects on the whole system. The operation is trivial, scarcely painful and does nt debar the subject from experiencing all the normal reaction in ordinary union; it only prevents the procreation of children.

It has been found in some States of America, and as I know from private correspondents in this country, there are men who would welcome the relief from the ever persistent anxiety of potential parenthood which they know full well would be ruinous to the future generation.

There is also the possibility of sterelization by the direct action of “X” rays. At present sterility is known as an unfortunate danger to those engaged in scientific research with radium, but it might, under control, be wisely used as a painless method of sterelization. This may prove of particular value for women in whom the operation corresponding to the severance of the ducts of the man is more serious. It appears however, nor always to be permanent in its effect. In some circumstances this may be an advantage, in others a disadvantage. With reference to the sterelizing effect of “X”-rays, the following quotation from F.H. Marshall, The Physiology of reproduction, 1910 is pertinent:-

A more special cause of sterelity in men is one which operates in the case of workers with Radium of the Röntgen rays. Several years ago Albers-Schönberg noticed that the X-rays induced sterelity in guinea pigs and rabbits, but without interfering with the sexual potency. These observations have been confirmed by other investigators, who have shown, further, that an azöspermia is due to the degeneration of the cells lining the seminal canals. In men it has been proved that mere presence of an –ray atmosphere incidental to radiography sooner or later causes a condition of complete sterelity, but without any diminution of sexual potency. As Gordon observes, for those working in an X-ray atmosphere absolute  protection for all parts of the body  not directly exposed for examination or treatment is indispensable, but, on the other hand, the X-rays afford a convenient, in cases in which is it is desirable to effect this result.

When Bills are passed to ensure the sterelity of the hopelessly rotten and racially diseased, and to provide for the education of the child-bearing woman so that she spaces their children healthily, our race will rapidly quell the stream of depraved, hopeless and wretched lives which are at present ever increasing in proportion to in our midst. Before this stream at present the thoughtful shrink but do nothing. Such actions as will be possible when these bills are passed will not only increase the relative proportion of the sound and healthy among us who may consciously contribute to the higher and more beautiful forms of the human race, but by the elimination of wasteful lives which are to-day seldom self-supporting and which are so largely the cause fo the cost and outlay of public money in their institutional treatment and their partial relief, will check an increasing drain on our national resources. The setting free of this public money would make it possible for those now too heavily taxed to reproduce their own and more valuable kinds.

The miserable, the degenerate, the utterly wretched in body and mind, who when reproducing multiply the misery and evil of the world, would be the first to be thankful for the escape such legislation would offer from the wretchedness entailed not only rely on their offspring but on themselves. The Labour Party, all Progressives, and all Conservatives[2] who desire to conserve the good can unite to support measures so directly calculated to improve the physical condition, the mental happiness and the general well-being of the human race.

Even to-day almost all the thriftiest and better of the working class, and the artisan class in particular, are already in the ranks of those who are sponged upon, and to some extent taxed, for the upkeep of the incompetent, and it is just from among the best artisan and from the middle class that the most serious minded parents and those who recognize their racial responsibilities are principally to be found. There is throughout the whole Labour movement, as throughout the less vocal but deeper feeling of the middle class, a passionate desire to eliminate the misery and human degradation which on the every hand to-day saddens the tender conscience. The limiting of their own families to meet the pressure of circumstances will never achieve their desires. The best to-day are making less and less headway, and the inferior are increasing more and more in proportion to them.

Directly, however, the need for such legislation as I have outlined above is realized, and such legislation is passed, then the tide will be turned. Then, at last, we shall begin to see the elimination of the horror and degradation of humanity, which at present is apparently so hopeless and permanent blot upon the world. And then, and then at once, will the positive effects of the conscious working of love and beauty and desired motherhood begin to take effect. The evolution of humanity will take a leap forward when we have around us only fine and beautiful young people, all of whom have been conceived, carried and born in true homes by conscious, powerful and voluntary mothers.

Meanwhile the prison reformers of all sorts will be going on with their reforms, and will be claiming this and that wonderful improvement in the school children, and they will probably never realize that it will not be their reforms which have worked these apparent miracles; it will be the change in the attitude of the mother, the return of the position of power of the mother, her voluntary motherhood, the conscious and deliberate creation by the mother and her mate of the fine and splendid race which to-day, as God’s prophet, I see in a vision and which might so speedily be materialized on earth.

Healthy seedsPositive eugenics might seem innocuous enough. On the other hand, negative eugenics, which included the compulsory sterelization of the unfit, state intervention into marriage and reproduction, a reduction in expenditure and effort to improve living conditions of the poor, the subordination of the rights of the individual for the efficiency of the state and improvement of the race, infacticide, and even the advocacy – by extremists –  of the use of a “humane gas” and a “lethal chamber” to eliminate the genetically inferior, it becomes understandable that there was opposition to Stopes’ campaign.

Was it monstrous? Sutherland thought so and gave his views in a speech Consumption: its cause and cure in 1917 in which he said:

“modern medicine [has]…found the cause, sources and cure of this disease”, but that “as long as apathy, arrogance, ignorance and indifference endure, so surely will tuberculosis claim its hourly victims…while at every point this dread disease is opposed, as will be shown, by the non-moral forces of nature, man and man alone has created the conditions under which it may arise, spread and destroy.”

Later he stated that neither the disease, nor a propensity to it was inherited:

“Is the disease inherited? It is not. No child is born tuberculous; nay more, every child who acquires the disease is infected after birth. There is not even, in my judgement, an inherited disposition.”

On this issue then, he disagreed with the eugenists. Sutherland saw them as:

“race-breeders with the souls of cattle-breeders”

…and he railed against their view that the prevention of disease was not in itself a good thing:

“But why should you set out to prevent this infection and to cure the disease?  There are some self-styled eugenists…who declaim that the prevention of disease is not in itself a good thing.  They say the efficiency of the State is based upon what they call ‘the survival of the fittest’.  This war has smashed their rhetorical phrase.  Who now talks about the survival of the fittest, or thinks himself fit because he survives?  I don’t know what they mean.  I do know that in preventing disease you are not conserving the weak, but conserving the strong.  And I do know that those evil conditions which will kill a child within a few months of birth, and slay another when he reaches the teens, will destroy yet another when he comes to adult life.”

[2] In November 1922 Stopes had written to parliamentary candidates asking them to sign this declaration: “I agree that the present position of breeding chiefly from the C3 population and burdening and discouraging the A1 is nationally deplorable, and if I am elected to Parliament I will press the Ministry of Health to give such scientific information through the Ante-natal Clinics, Welfare Centres and other institutions in its control as will curtail the C3 and increase the A1.” (Rose, 1992)

Works cited:

Carey, J. (2012). The Racial Imperatives of Sex: Birth Control and Eugenics in Britain, the United States and Australia in the Interwar Years. Women’s History Review 21, No.5, 733-752.

Galton, F. (1904, July). Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope and Aims. The American Journal of Sociology, Volume X(Number 1).

Pearce, F. (2010). Peoplequake (e-book). London: Transworld Publishers.

Pearson, K. (1912). Tuberculosis, Heredity and Environment. Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics.

Pitt, S. (2004). McIlroy, Dame (Anne) Louise (1878-1968), obstetrician and gynaecologist. In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.

Pitt, S. (n.d.). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved October 10, 2014, from http://primo.unilinc.edu.au/primo_library/libweb/action/display.do?tabs=viewOnlineTab&gathStatTab=true&ct=display&fn=search&doc=TN_oxford_dicodnb%2f47540&indx=13&recIds=TN_oxford_dicodnb%2f47540&recIdxs=2&elementId=2&renderMode=poppedOut&displayMode=full&

Rose, J. (1992). Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution (Faber and Faber 1993), . London: Faber and Faber Limited.

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This entry was posted on 31 October 2014 by in London, Opposition to eugenics, Political views, Stopes v Sutherland, Tuberculosis.

Stopes v Sutherland libel trial 1922-24

Centenary of the House of Lords judgment21 November 2024
11 months to go.

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