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.

“It can’t be done.”

© Mark Sutherland 2019

This postcard from George Bernard Shaw was among Dr Sutherland’s personal papers. Dated 4th August 1921, it read:

It can’t be done. Thinking comes under the head of infamous professional conduct. When they do venture on it they daren’t utter those thoughts. When I wrote The Doctor’s Dilemma, I was a mere spokesman.

I will tell my people to send on the B.M.J. from London.


At the time, Sutherland was writing Birth Control: A Statement of Christian Doctrine Against the Neo-Malthusians.

The previous month, they had attended a presentation on birth control by Professor Louise McIlroy at the Medico-Legal Society in London. In the discussion that followed her talk, McIlroy had said: “the most harmful method of which I have had experience is the use of the pessary.” Sutherland quoted McIlroy in a his book in a passage that led to him being put on trial for libel in 1923.

The Doctor’s Dilemma was Shaw’s 1920 play which dealt with the ethical problems that doctors faced at that time. “The B.M.J.” was the British Medical Journal. Though what they had discussed, and what it was that couldn’t be done, is lost to history.

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This entry was posted on 1 August 2019 by in Bernard Shaw, Scotland.

Stopes v Sutherland libel trial 1922-24

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