"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.
No one warned me that this week was “Eugenics Week” in Britain, so recent events took me by surprise. In my previous post, I discussed the resignation of Andrew Sabisky as an adviser to the government of Boris Johnson. In this post, I discuss how opposition to eugenics has changed over the years.
On Sunday 16th February, Richard Dawkins tweeted:
The tweet copped praise, criticism and, as is often the way on Twitter, crude insults and abuse (including the contribution from Mr @bucketoftea shown at the top of this page). In reading some of these and other articles in response to Dawkins and Sabisky, two things struck me.
Consider how long it took for Mr @bucketoftea to insult Mr Dawkins, and the possible consequences. I’d say, “less than a minute” and “close to zero”.
Things were more difficult for Dr Halliday Sutherland because in his time, eugenics was a bright shiny and new science that promised to transform humanity. In today’s parlance, it was “the settled science,” backed by some of the best and brightest of his era and which, were you to question it, would draw the scorn of its advocates.
Of the ten persons featured in the photograph, one was president and six were vice-presidents of the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress. Four testified against Dr Sutherland in his 1923 libel trial. Even if Twitter were available for Dr Sutherland’s use, mere insults were not going to cut it. His opposition had to be reasoned and backed by scientific data and it included:
The Soil and the Seed in Tuberculosis which appeared in the British Medical Journal in November 1912.
Sutherland’s opposition did not go unnoticed, nor unpunished, and in May 1922 he received a writ for libel from Dr Marie Stopes. Having no money with which to fight the case, he planned to defend himself against the best K.C.s in Britain. After a bitter, drawn out legal battle that involved the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, he won in November 1924.
Why is this? Was it because there were none, or that they didn’t warrant mentioning, or that people don’t know?
Please help me by listing the opponents of eugenics in the “comments” section below and giving me your view as to why they are not as well-known.
Mark H. Sutherland, Curator, hallidaysutherland.com and author of Exterminating Poverty: The incredible true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland).
Photo credit: The photograph of the Royal Courts of Justice by David Castor (Wikipedia user: dcastor).