Mark Halliday Sutherland – The Threat of Eugenics | The Delingpod

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Battling The Eugenicists

– 29 July 2022 |

talks with Mark Sutherland, the curator of, a website that celebrates the life and work of Dr. Halliday Sutherland who opposed the nasty eugenicists.

Mark is an experienced executive coach and facilitator, and an accomplished public speaker. He lives in Sydney.

“It is time that people recognised the past and realised the threat of because it hasn't gone away it's just changed its clothes.”

Halliday Sutherland

“In a society based on lies, tellers of truth must pay the price for their veracity. Sometimes this price is paid with suffering whilst they live; at other, the penalty is obscurity after death, no matter how accomplished they may have been, howsoever heroic or helpful to their fellow man they may have been. The latter punishment was meted out to Halliday Sutherland.”

Charles A. Coulombe in his foreword to the 2018 edition of “Birth Control: A Statement of Christian Doctrine Against the Neo-Malthusians” (1922) by Halliday Sutherland.

Dr Halliday Gibson Sutherland (1882-1960) was a tuberculosis pioneer, doctor and author. His obituary in the British Medical Journal described him as “a tenacious fighter for the principles he thought were right, whether medical or political.” He publicly spoke out against , a stance which led him into a bitter legal battle against the eugenist, Dr Marie Stopes.

What is ?

For many years, breeders of livestock had known that the careful selection of mating pairs could be used to permanently improve the quality of the offspring. Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, wondered: 

“Could not the race of men be similarly improved? Could not the undesirables be got rid of and the desirables multiplied?”

In the Name of  by Daniel Kevles 2004, page 3

When Galton applied modern statistical techniques to the study of heredity, modern eugenics was born. Eugenists held the view that the quality of a person and their “fitness” to survive in their environment was determined by their heredity. While environment did play a part, eugenicists believed that its influence far less influential than heredity. Social standing was seen as indicating the quality of a person's genetic inheritance.

British eugenists fretted about the “differential birth-rate”. This arose from the observation that:

“one half of each succeeding generation was produced by no more than a quarter of its married predecessor, and that the prolific quarter was disproportionately located among the dregs of society.”

In the Name of  by Daniel Kevles 2004, page 74

Given their belief that nature was the predominant factor, they concluded that the trend would lead to “national deterioration” and even “race suicide”. 

The link to tuberculosis was this: the disease affected the lower classes three to four times more than their social betters. The mainstream eugenist thought that the disease formed a natural check on the progeny of the “dregs” of society—in other words, it killed them before they could reproduce. To mainstream eugenists, tuberculosis was a literal and metaphorical “weed-killer”

In 1908 Sutherland decided to specialise in tuberculosis and, in 1910, became the Medical Officer at the St Marylebone Dispensary for the Prevention of Consumption. His research into consumption here led him to conclude that the disease was primarily caused by infection, not by a person's inherited disposition. In the first annual report of the dispensary he wrote:

“…one fact stands out clearly—that the infectious consumptive is the determining factor in causing the onset of the disease in others, rather than the seeds of the disease implanted before birth. The work of the Dispensary is based on this, for by the observance of a few simple precautions the infectious patient can be rendered non-infectious, and it is also known that if infectious persons can be placed under conditions of life whereby their resistance will be raised, they are less likely to develop the disease in later years. Therein lies the hope for the future.”

First annual report of the St Marylebone Dispensary for the Prevention of Consumption.

Sutherland published his results in the British Medical Journal in 1912 (The Soil and the Seed in Tuberculosis), but his views were heretical to the scientific and medical establishment—who believed that consumption was caused by an inherited disposition to the disease—and were ignored. At the British Medical Association's annual conference the same year, Sir James Barr said this in his Presidential Address: 

“If we could only abolish the tubercle bacillus in these islands we would get rid of tuberculous disease, but we should at the same time raise up a race peculiarly susceptible to this infection—a race of hothouse plants which would not flourish in any other environment. We would thus increase at an even greater rate than we are doing at present, nervous instability, the numbers of insane and feeble-minded. Nature, on the other hand, weeds out those who have not got the innate power of recovery from disease, and by means of the tubercle bacillus and other pathogenic organisms she frequently does this before the reproductive age, so that a check is put on the multiplication of idiots and the feeble-minded. Nature's methods are thus of advantage to the race rather than to the individual.”

The outbreak of war in 1914 and service in the Royal Navy took Sutherland away from his work. In September 1917, he made a speech in London in which he expressed anger and frustration that the efforts to cure tuberculosis were hindered by: 

“…self-styled eugenists…who declaim that the prevention of disease is not in itself a good thing. They say the efficiency of the State is based upon what they call ‘the survival of the fittest.' This [First World] war has smashed their rhetorical phrase. Who talks now about survival of the fittest, or thinks himself fit because he survives? I don't know what they mean. I do know that in preventing disease you are not preserving the weak, but conserving the strong. And I do know that those evil conditions which will kill a weakly child within a few months of birth, and slay another when he reaches the teens, will destroy yet another when he comes to adult life.”

Yet the old beliefs about tuberculosis being a hereditary condition persisted. In 1918, an ex-president of the British Medical Association, Sir James Barr, expressed the view that: 

“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…Personally, I am of opinion…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.”

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Source: Mark Halliday Sutherland


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