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.

Town Hall, Sydney

Dr Halliday Sutherland Australian Tour 1939
Dr Halliday Sutherland made an address at the Sydney Town Hall on the evening of Monday 23rd October 1939. The event was reported in The Catholic Press on 26th October:

Dr. Halliday Sutherland Acclaimed at Sydney Town Hall

A magnificent response was made last Monday night, 23rd inst., by the Catholic people of Sydney to the invitation by the Lay Apostolate Secretariat to hear a famous medical lecturer, Dr. Halliday Sutherland, discourse upon the vexed questions of euthanasia, birth control, sterilisation, and mental defectives.

The first public address of Dr. Sutherland in Sydney was given in the Town Hall, which was crowded to the remotest seats in the galleries. His Grace the Co-adjutor-Archbishop (Most Rev. N. T. Gilroy D.D.), presided, and introduced the famous visitor. Many of the parochial and regular clergy were on the platform, or interspersed among the audience, and a very fine representation of Catholic doctors was noticeable.

Among the clergy present were Right Rev. Monsignor T. Phelan, P.P., V.G., Right Rev. Monsignor T. Hayden, D.D., P.P., Ven. Archdeacon R. Collender, P.P., Very Rev. Father P. Doherty, P.P. Rev. Dr. Eris O’Brien, P.P. (Director of Catholic Action), and Rev. Father W. P. Clark. Also present at the lecture were Dr. Walter Burfitt and Mrs. Burfitt, with whom Dr. Sutherland stayed in Sydney.

Archbishop Gilroy introduces Dr. Sutherland

His Grace Archbishop Gilroy, in introducing Dr. Sutherland, said that it afforded him much pleasure to do so. “The doctor comes to us as a distinguished physician, as a noted author, and also as an outstanding Catholic,” added his Grace.

As a physician, Dr. Sutherland entertained the very highest estimate of his noble profession. He realised that the principal duty of a physician was, so far as was possible, to restore health to the sick and to maintain life. It was because of that belief that Dr. Sutherland had entered the lists against those who seemed to believe that even in this world people had the right to destroy life, particularly among the innocent.

Because of the magnificent stand which Dr. Sutherland had taken and maintained in the defence of life, he had obtained greater notoriety than he otherwise would have. His stand in this matter had been dictated by his conscience, not only as a Christian man, but also because he was a patriot who loved his country and hated everything that was to its detriment.

“Regarding the subject which he has chosen for his lecture, he is an outstanding authority, and so it gives me much pleasure to introduce to you Dr. Halliday Sutherland,” concluded Archbishop Gilroy.

Dangers for the World

Settling down to his task almost as soon as he took his stand at the microphone, Dr. Sutherland went on progressively to examine and attack the sinister propositions contained in the dangerous, new-fangled crazes which threaten human life, the family, and the very existence of nations. With the precision derived from his medical and literary store, he gave a succession of graphic word-pictures of the madness underlying all this defiance of the laws of God and nature.

Time and again his pronouncements and explanations—clear to all sections of his audience—were heartily applauded. A sally or two of dry Scotch humour crept into his address, to give point to some subject, and to delight the eager  crowd.

He did not suppose, said Dr. Sutherland, that there had ever been a more difficult or dangerous time for ourselves, our country, and the world than the present. It was no consolation to know that in the world there was a mentality of danger leading to a war psychosis. The name of that mental attitude was anthropophobia, meaning an aversion to, or hatred of, human life as human life. It might arise from crowd psychology or mob mentality, especially in cities, where few thought deeply and where the popular press was regarded as infallible. When listening to broadcasts from Germany during the last two years, said the lecturer, he had wondered whether it was possible that individually people could be sane, and collectively mad.

In England some of the titular and titled leaders were advocating the destruction of life through euthanasia, sterilisation, birth control, &c. The word “euthanasia” meant “an easy death,” but that was not the aim of the Euthanasia Society of Great Britain. Their aim was to legalise the killing of people suffering from incurable and painful diseases. Dr. Sutherland said he could recall only one incident, of a man ever asking for an overdose of morphia, and, similarly, his colleagues and nurses had difficulty in citing cases.

Suggested Method of Euthanasia

Death in itself was not painful, Dr. Sutherland pointed out. The experience of some people who had nearly drowned was that as consciousness waned they found themselves  thinking in a kind of impersonal and posthumous way. None had a panorama of his past life passing before him. Death might be preceded by a long and painful illness, for which there were morphia and other drugs as palliatives. But the Euthanasia Society would make the way clear for a person afflicted with an incurable and painful disease to apply through his nearest relative for “euthanasia.” Nothing could be imagined more ghoulish. After the application, the suggestion was that a week’s delay should elapse to see if the patient changed his mind. If not, then he would be examined by two experts of the Home Office, who were to decide whether the illness was painful and incurable, and whether the patient was capable of a proper decision.

“That is a decision,” said Dr. Sutherland, “I for one would not make.”

He pointed out that there was no method of measuring pain, a purely subjective experience. Individuals and nations varied in their reaction to pain, Northern European nations standing it better than Southern, and women tolerating it better than men. Jews stood pain the least. The so-called “euthanasia” benefits were to be confined to physical pain—and yet, he had no hesitation in saying, mental pain was the harder to endure.

Came the point of whether or not an illness was incurable. Well, said Dr. Sutherland, doctors were not infallible. Years ago he himself was given three months to live on account of a disease which he did not possess at all. Further marvels were revealed by Dr. Sutherland in citing a famous cancer specialist, who mentioned cases of inoperable cancer simultaneously find spontaneously disappearing. On top of those points, Dr. Sutherland laid the reminder that medical science to-day could deal successfully with ailments which baffled doctors ten years ago. Here in Australia he had seen the successful treatment of insanity which five years ago was not curable.

Some Ugly Possibilities

Many an illness was more tedious to the relatives than to the patient, and it would not be difficult to realise that some people might put pressure on the sick person to seek an end of his suffering. On the other hand, an unselfish patient might ask for “euthanasia” to relieve others from the trouble of looking after him. To such a man some would apply the text, “Greater love hath no man . . .”, but, said Dr. Sutherland, he himself could see no analogy between a sacrifice like Captain Oates’s and the termination of his life by a patient.

On the report of the two experts, Dr. Sutherland continued, the Home Office was to say; whether the applicant was to have the benefit of euthanasia, or in plain words, be killed. As a, doctor, he objected. On joining the medical profession he had taken the Hippocratic oath not to administer a noxious substance or to kill. That oath, descending from Grecian pagan days, long before the Christian era, showed that even then they appreciated the command, “Thou shall not kill.” Let no nit-wit quote capital punishment, or war as an objection to that Commandment—for death by those means was to duly safeguard other lives. But for death by euthanasia why should a doctor have to do the killing? While it required skill or knowledge to alleviate pain, Dr. Sutherland added, he could see no reason why the public executioner should not administer euthanasia. Should practitioners refuse to do the work, the society hoped to secure retired doctors for it, who would be called “the mercy doctors.”

“In all Grand Guignol,” Dr. Sutherland observed, “I cannot imagine a more sickening scene than of a patient being given a fatal injection, and then shrieking out, ‘I don’t want to die.”’

“They have chosen a beautiful word,” he added, “to cover a hideous reality.”

Dr. Sutherland expressed the amazement he had felt upon noting the number of Anglican and Nonconformist clergymen, who supported euthanasia in England. He would have thought they would have accepted the mystery of suffering as an inevitable fact; but, of course, there were people who considered that had they been consulted at the Creation, the world would be a better place. To that mystery of suffering—pain for some and an easy life for others— there was no answer here below. But if one was tempted to object to it, let him look up at the stars at night, and object to the fact that space went on for ever. If human beings had feelings of pity, justice, and compassion, such qualities existed in excelsis in the mind of the Creator. How could a Christian advocate euthanasia in view of the words of Christ, “Take up thy cross and follow Me”— to the anguish of Gethsemane and an agonising death on the Cross, where there was no euthanasia?

Divided Opinion

Clergymen were to be found who held primitive and anthropomorphic ideas of the next world, said the lecturer. In citing cases of a surprising attitude of mind on the part, of prominent men, Dr. Sutherland recalled a debate with Sir James Purves Stewart three months ago. Sir James finished a speech with an orgy of sensationalism and sentimentalism with which was intermixed the harrowing story of three men fatally scalded, with skin peeling and muscles quivering. They were given an unmeasured dose of morphia. The audience was asked for its opinion, with the result that pandemonium ensued as half hailed it as mercy and the other half condemned it as murder.

There was only one argument in favour of euthanasia, Dr. Sutherland remarked. It would abolish the unfortunate publicity given to suicides. All places were not like Scotland, where there were no coroners and where after official investigation only relatives knew that a case was suicide. In other parts the pitiful and shameless details were dragged into full publicity as the perquisite of those press lords who battened on the misery of others. Scotland had a much lower suicide rate than England.

Birth control, the lecturer went on, was another movement launched under a false name. As far as it lowered the birth rate it became a danger to the very existence of a nation. In the past 20 years many factors in Britain had contributed to the spread of contraception. Tho first adduced by Dr. Sutherland was the decision of the Lambeth Conference of the Church of England to release the moral ban on contraception, but yet retaining the ban against abortion. The Ministry of Health, too, had relaxed the ban on the teaching of contraception in ante-natal and welfare clinics. Displays of contraceptives were be coming more daring—in the West End they were such as would not be tolerated else-where in Europe.

Family Limitation

Dr. Sutherland spoke of the family limitation obtaining in the middle and professional classes of England. High income tax, and costs of education were given as contributory causes. Among lowlier people, the hire purchase system, in which income was mortgaged for long periods, was detrimental to births; and then again, a young man who had enjoyed a certain standard of living as a bachelor sometimes tended to retain it as a married man by family limitation. The spread of chain stores, driving the small shopkeeper out of business, was another blow to population. If those factors predisposed to a falling birthrate, then those factors must be halted, or we would perish. Out of 42 marriages celebrated in Falkirk, Scotland, in the last four years, there had been only three children.

That was a sign of obvious national decline. The blind were leading the blind. Every year England was losing 100,000 school children—each year the numbers leaving the elementary schools were that fewer. In Australia the great dead Prime Minister, Mr. J.A. Lyons, had said that since 1921 the Commonwealth was losing more men than in what up to then was the greatest war.

If any one should say the falling birth rate was inevitable, said Dr. Sutherland, then let him be logical and realise that national decline was inevitable, that England’s sun was setting, and that Australia would lose, her territory. Why not, then, hand over our territory without incurring the perils of war? Here in Australia, with its strong men and beautiful women, there was room for many more children.

Dr. Sutherland drew upon eminent support to disprove the contention that healthier children were to be expected in limited families.

In class upon class rising in the social scale in England, he declared, the number of children became fewer. If the scarcity of births in higher classes was due to contraception, then it showed an orgy of selfishness beyond credulity.

Contraception as a measure of reform must fail, Dr. Sutherland added. Its results were very uncertain; its methods were much too complicated and expensive for the poor: the only method physiologically was the “safe period,” the details of which were beyond the comprehension of uneducated women.

During the last 20 years, in spite of great advances in ante-natal care, the maternal mortality rate was rising. It was almost double in rich boroughs in England.


On the question of sterilisation, the stoppage of poor relief and the use of detention to enforce a falling birthrate among defective people, Dr. Sutherland retorted that it never occurred to Major Darwin that poverty and crime might be due to super men ruling the State. Mental defectives had committed no crime, yet it was suggested they should be sterilised and let loose on the world. Such women, alone, would be prolific carriers of venereal disease. Sterilisation would do little to reduce mental deficiency, for 50 per cent. of all mentally defective children wore the offspring of parents apparently normal, mentally and physically.

Dr. Sutherland quoted statistics taken of 1802 children belonging to mentally deficient parents: Approximately 16 per cent. of the children were defective, 24 per cent. retarded, 58 per cent. normal, and one per cent. superior in intellect.

Compulsory sterilisation, he believed, would drive mental deficiency underground. The knowledge would be withheld from the authorities, and so the children would receive no training for usefulness in life. Voluntary sterilisation involved full consent of the will, a condition not to be obtained in defectives.

Dr. Sutherland condemned those prosperous people who, with press support, clamoured for the sterilisation of the indigent and sick. Coming close to the end, he told a humorous story of a Danish professor’s perplexity in almost establishing completely defective descendants from defective forbears, and then suddenly discovering a whole lot holding the highest positions in the State, the Church, and the professions.

Dr. Sutherland concluded on a note of optimism: that all was not ill in the world, and that the Creator mercifully protected the innocent.

Dr. O’Brien Moves Vote of Thanks

In moving a vote of thanks to Dr. Sutherland, Rev. Dr. Eris O ‘Brien said that the able manner in which the lecturer had treated very difficult subjects, and had held the interest of the audience was, indeed, a tribute to him. He thanked Father Clark who had attended to the business arrangements.

In pointing out how the principles enunciated by Dr. Sutherland could best be applied to remedy the distressing conditions prevailing in Australia, Dr. O’Brien said at the outset that in this country the uncompromising attitude of the Church on birth control was often criticised. These criticisms had been refuted by the arguments put forth by Dr. Sutherland. Others agreed that it was much more desirable to have a rising rather than a declining birth rate, but they considered that it was rather hard to expect people to rear large families on the small incomes which they obtained. Most of those people were honest in their beliefs.

As Catholics, they should do their utmost to bring about such economic conditions as would enable a man to support and to rear a large family.

Pope Pius XI., in an important Encyclical, had pointed out that if families, particularly in which there were many children, had not suitable dwellings, if the husband had not employment and means of livelihood, if the necessities of life were unprocurable except at exorbitant prices, and if other oppressive difficulties of this nature had to be faced, it became evident to all that many would lose heart. Having nothing to lose and perhaps something to gain from upheaval, they were impressed by revolutionary doctrine.

In this State alone, stated Dr. O’Brien, vital statistics showed that the birthrate had decreased by 50 per cent. The population figures had been kept up by means of migration, &c.

The Catholic Church in N.S.W., as in other centres, had done its share in the scientific sphere, to keep up the birthrate. For example, in St. Margaret’s Catholic Hospital 1000 young Australians had been born in the past year. The Mater Misericordiae was adding a maternity block, as was St. Vincent’s Hospital.

The Economic Factors

Dr. O’Brien expressed the belief that economic factors, over which neither the Church nor the parents had any control, should be considered, along with birth control, as a menace to the sanctity of family life. During the depression many families had been on the verge of starvation in a land of plenty. To-day when millions of pounds were being spent on preparations for war we were once again faced with rising costs which the living wage was inadequate to meet. During the last nine months thousands had gone on the dole. Considerably fewer men were given reproductive relief work. About 2500 men had been dismissed by the Water Board, and 1000 given notice by a private industrial firm.

Most of those men who were now unemployed were either fathers of families or else would have been in the future. They were not offered any security in their home life. Thousands of children were leaving school, and taking up “dead-end” jobs.

“We Catholics must formulate a public opinion so as to appeal to the Government to investigate and remedy the causes of this distressing unemployment,” declared Dr. O’Brien.

Anomalies in the World

Dr. de Monchaux, in supporting the vote of thanks, painted in most interesting fashion word-pictures of anomalies which existed throughout the world. For example, in Germany authorities had been unable to find sufficient money to purchase radium to relieve suffering, yet they had been able to raise millions for the manufacture of implements of destruction.

A vote of thanks to his Grace was moved by Mr. Brian Doyle, to which Archbishop Gilroy responded.

The original document is scanned as part of the excellent Trove collection of the National Library of Australia. The original article can be read here.

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This entry was posted on 1 December 2018 by in Australia, Australian tour, 1939, Euthanasia, Political views.

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