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.

George Bernard Shaw


The following comes from a handwritten manuscript found in Dr. Sutherland’s papers. It is called “The Perfect Eugenic State” and is likely to have been written in the 1920s or 1930s.

George Bernard Shaw has said that if a criminal be insane there is all the more reason why he should be executed; and others have suggested that even the innocent who are helplessly insane should be killed, in place of being maintained at the expense of their friends or the State. Henry Maudsley, alienist, agnostic, and philanthropist, concluded that the only benefit which insanity could confer on humanity was to make those who are sane more contented with their lot. If so, then for our greater content others have paid a terrible price. If we killed them we would continue to benefit by thinking of their misfortune, and at the same time save money for ourselves. Throughout the rest of the animal kingdom Nature destroys the unfit, and that raises the problem of why suffering exists in the world. So far, the “Eugenic” argument.

Darwin explained the existence of suffering by his theory of Natural Selection because—

“Such suffering is quite compatible with Natural Selection, which is not perfect in its action, but tends only to render each species as successful as possible in the battle for life with other species in wonderfully complex and changing circumstances”. But there could be not Natural Selection prior to the existence of living organisms capable of being selected and of suffering in the struggle to survive. Natural Selection at most is therefore a method, not a cause: the track explains the direction of a train but not its motive power. As the track along which life has developed Natural Selection might explain the habits and interests of living things, but it could not possibly be the ultimate cause of their existence and therefore suffering. Even as a method or track of development, Natural Selection is nowadays discredited. As Wallace, who was Darwin’s colleague, pointed out—the step (1) from non-life to life, (2) from life to feeling, and (3) from feeling to reason cannot have come about any Natural Selection. These steps imply design, and the existence of design in the Universe is one proof of an Intelligent First Cause. When Darwin failed to admit design he realised the intellectual consequence of this denial—“I am conscious that I am in an utterly hopeless muddle…”

Are the sufferings of men, animals, and possibly plants compatible with the existence of an Omnipotent and Benevolent First Cause? It is inconceivable that such a creator should have designed suffering, merely for suffering’s sake. He could only intend physical evil to exist in the world as a means whereby some real good was attained at the end of creation. That is not inconceivable because even in this world real good often does result from physical evil. For example, in the physical sphere, Sir William Osler, the greatest physician of the 19th Century, noted that sometimes that it was not a bad thing for a man to contract venereal disease, if in consequence of this he altered his mode of life; and also that it was not always a bad thing for a man to develop kidney disease at the age of 40, if this caused him to alter habits of eating and drinking which otherwise would have shortened his life.

If the sole explanation of human suffering be a blind law of Natural Selection; and man’s highest destiny is ruled out; then by all means let us get on with the killing if by so doing we are assisting Nature. But if the existence of suffering implies some real good, wither here or hereafter, the question arises—can we claim the right to kill our fellow human beings? Every society of mankind that has ever existed has claimed the right of inflicting punishment on those who offended against its laws; and the greatest punishment, reserved for the greatest crimes, has been death. There are uncivilized societies where individuals are destroyed on account of mental and physical infirmities—for which the individual is in no way responsible, but whereby he becomes an apparently useless member of society. In China children are legally murdered, I once asked a medical missionary who had lived with barbaric tribes whether a disease, prevalent amongst old men in our civilization, existed in these simpler people. He had never seen this disease in those tribes—because they had no old men. As soon as a man became old, he was clubbed on the head; and according to these simple people as soon as an elderly gentleman begins to talk nonsense it would be right to club him on the head. Thus the first word in barbarism became the last word of our civilisation—George Bernard Shaw!

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This entry was posted on 1 July 2017 by in Bernard Shaw, Eugenics and tagged .

Stopes v Sutherland libel trial 1922-24

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