Dr Halliday Sutherland

Tuberculosis pioneer. Best-selling author. Convert to Catholicism. Enemy of eugenics, and eugenicists.

The marriage of undesirables

rough but serviceable check

Sir James Barr made a speech The Future of the Medical Profession on 21st September 1918.

At the time, tuberculosis killed 70,000 and disabled 150,000 people in Britain each year. When it struck the breadwinner, whole families would be thrown into destitution. How then could it be said that the disappearance of this terrible disease would be “a national calamity?”

The answer was eugenics. What Barr was saying, in effect, was that the misery and suffering caused by tuberculous deaths did not outweigh the eugenic benefits it had on British racial stocks. That TB had value as a lethal, and legal, means to eliminate the so-called “unfit”.

Here is the full extract from the speech:

“Dr. D. W. Hunter, whose name I deeply regretted to see in a recent casualty list, said: ‘The death-rate among idiots is about ten times that of the normal population at the same age. Further, of deaths of idiots about 80 per cent. are due to tuberculosis. Now an idiot has not even the resisting power necessary to die of phthisis; he dies of acute tuberculosis, death taking place in from three to six weeks from the onset of the illness. Surely here there is some inherited lowering of the soil. There are some 150,000 (estimated) of these defectives in England and Wales, and for every defective there are from six to a dozen of his relatives only a shade better than himself. Practically the same holds for insanity, yet we are asked to believe that a man cannot inherit a soil which will remain during his lifetime permanently below the average in resisting power. Until we have some restriction in the marriage of undesirables the elimination of the tubercle bacillus is not worth aiming at. It forms a rough, but on the whole very serviceable check, on the survival and propagation of the unfit. This world is not a hothouse; a race which owed its survival to the fact that the tubercle bacillus had ceased to exist would, on the whole, be a race hardly worth surviving. Personally, I am of opinion—and I think such opinion will be shared by most medical men who have been behind the scenes and have not allowed their sentiments to blind them—that if to-morrow the tubercle bacillus were non-existent, it would be nothing short of a national calamity. We are not yet ready for its disappearance.’”

Dr Halliday Sutherland disagreed, not because he had been “blinded by sentiment”, but because he realised that Tuberculosis was primarily caused by infection, not heredity.

In 1921, Barr wrote to Dr Marie Stopes to congratulate her on the opening of a birth-control clinic in a poor district of London. The restriction in the reproduction of undesirables was to be achieved by the provision of contraceptives (Stopes’ own “PRORACE” brand).

“You and your husband have inaugurated a great movement which I hope will eventually get rid of our C3 population and exterminate poverty. The only way to raise an A1 population is to breed them.” [“A1” and “C3” were categories assigned to men who sought enlistment in the army. A1 was the very best, and C3 described the worst, unfit to serve on mental and physical grounds].

Barr became a Vice-President of Stopes’ Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress and he testified for her on on the first day of the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial in 1923.

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This entry was posted on 27 February 2018 by in Consumption, Eugenics, Sir James Barr, Tuberculosis.

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Centenary of the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial

February 21st, 2023
4.4 years to go.