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.

A remarkable prediction


“The cataclysm which may end the eighth known epoch in civilisation may be a lack of European children.”

Dr Halliday Sutherland — September 1929

Remarkable’ decline in fertility rate by James Gallagher is the Health and Science Correspondent for BBC News. His recent discussed research published in The Lancet that found:

There has been a remarkable global decline in the number of children women are having, say researchers.

Their report found fertility rate falls meant nearly half of countries were now facing a “baby bust” – meaning there are insufficient children to maintain their population size.

The researchers said the findings were a “huge surprise”.

And there would be profound consequences for societies with “more grandparents than grandchildren”.

Dr Halliday Sutherland’s book Control of Life (1944) opened as follows:


The trend of the birth-rate in Britain is towards national eclipse-in the form of a dwindling population in which, for the first time in our history, old men and old women will outnumber boys and girls. Photos of a bevy of grandchildren around an aged couple are likely to be replaced by pictures of an only child surrounded by its thirty surviving progenitors, including sixteen great-great-grandparents aged 80 and upwards. All will be poorer. Young adults will have to support a larger number of old people. The infirm and old will have fewer young workers to help them. And these are only a few of the dangers in the inverted social pyramid that we have been building in Britain and in the Dominions overseas.

“Control of Life” by Dr Halliday Sutherland.
Burns, Oates and Washbourne, Ltd. London S.W.1 1944

The rest of the chapter gives the reasons for the falling birth rate and provides some of the consequences. The chapter concludes:

This dangerous trend of the birth-rate was recognised by the Registrar-General in 1911, when he issued the following warning, to which nobody at the time paid the slightest attention: “It may be pointed out that, although the effect of the fall in the birth-rate has hitherto been in a sense advantageous in that it has increased the proportions living at the working ages, a tendency to the reversal of this fact has already set in, and may be expected to develop as time goes on.”

Fifteen years later Mr. Winston Churchill, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, warned the country that in the not far distant future the burden of taxation would be falling on a number of young people for the support of a large number of old people. By Reason of this and of other warnings, Mr. Churchill, of all our public men, has most right to say—I told you so. There is a polite convention that no one should boast in that way; although no one thinks any the less of the man who boasts of foreknowledge in lesser events, such as the Grand National and the Derby. In 1939 I backed Workman and Blue Peter. Yet I am more proud to have written the following words in the year 1922—

“Our declining birth-rate is a fact of the utmost gravity, and a more serious position has never confronted the British people. Here in the midst of a great nation, at the end of a victorious war, the law of decline is working, and by that law the greatest empires in the world have perished. In comparison with that single fact all other dangers, be they war, of politics, or of disease, are of little moment. Attempts have already been made to avert the consequences by partial endowment of motherhood and by saving infant life. Physiologists are now seeking the endocrinous glands and the vitamins for a substance to assist procreation. “Where are my children?” was the question shouted yesterday from the cinemas. “Let us have children, children at any price,” will be the cry of tomorrow. And all these thoughts were once in the mind of Augustus, Emperor of the world from the Atlantic to the Euphrates, from Mount Atlas to the Danube and the Rhine. The Catholic Church has never taught that “an avalanche of children” should be brought into the world regardless of consequences. God is not mocked; as men sow, so shall they reap, and against a law of nature both the transient amelioration wrought by philanthropists and the subtle expediences of scientific politicians are alike futile. If our civilisation is to survive we must abandon those ideals that lead to decline. There is only one civilisation immune from decay, and that civilisation endures on the practical eugenics once taught by a united Christendom and now expounded almost solely by the Catholic Church.” [from Birth Control, 1922, p. 155. Published by Messrs. Harding & More, Ambrosden Press, 119 High Holborn, London, W.C.1]

“Control of Life” by Dr Halliday Sutherland.
Burns, Oates and Washbourne, Ltd. London S.W.1 1944

In 1922, Dr Sutherland was sued by Dr Marie Stopes over a passage in Birth Control which came under the heading: Exposing the Poor to Experiment. When examined during the 1923 trial Sutherland’s barrister, Mr Ernst Charles K.C. asked him:

“Now I want to take you, first of all, to this matter, this paragraph that is complained of: you have it: ‘Exposing the poor to experiment.’ It is page 101. Tell me, to begin with, what was the experiment your referred to?—”

Sutherland: “The indiscriminate distribution of knowledge of contraceptives amongst the poor for the purpose of attempting to redistribute the birth rate by means of artificial contraceptives and contrary to the law of nature.”

In subsequent answers, Sutherland added that it was a “social experiment” and a “bad experiment”.

If Dr Sutherland were around today, it is unlikely he would have been surprised by, or found remarkable, the research published in The Lancet. He had predicted the outcome of the experiment in 1922.

Photo-credit: Pixabay.

One comment on “A remarkable prediction

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This entry was posted on 10 November 2018 by in Malthusianism, Opposition to eugenics, Stopes v Sutherland.

Stopes v Sutherland libel trial 1922-24

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