The Great Star Trek TNG Rewatch: Ethics

When an accident in the cargo bay leaves Worf paralysed from the waist down, it seems as if his life as a warrior is over. Unable to contemplate life in a wheelchair, Worf begins contemplating Klingon ritual suicide. Whilst Riker tries to talk him out of it, Crusher engages the services of a neurologist whose dangerous new technique might just be Worf’s only hope of walking again.

The trouble with episodes like these is that we know that there will be no lasting damage to the afflicted character – by the next episode Worf will be walking fine and this will never be mentioned again. However, as a story about medical ethics, disability and cultural differences, it’s actually pretty good. The first strand is Worf’s reaction to his paralysis; where a human might want to live no matter how bad the damage, a Klingon who cannot stand might as well be dead. Picard takes Worf’s side, citing cultural differences, but Riker hates the whole thing, and essentially manipulates Worf into not committing suicide by insisting that he follow the ritual to the letter and have Alexander participate. Even a Klingon wouldn’t make such a young boy help his own father to kill himself.

Running alongside this is a chance for Crusher to do something other than fall in love with a random man, as she locks horns with Dr Toby Russell. Russell is a brilliant researcher, but the patient in front of her is less important than trying out risky techniques that might one day yield great rewards. To Crusher, this is a violation of the idea that a physician’s job is to consider each and every patient’s wellbeing, and to never do anything to actively make them worse. I think this debate even means the episode passes the Bechdel test!

Bits and pieces

  • Those stacked barrels in the cargo bay were an accident waiting to happen before they ever toppled onto Worf. Given how much the Enterprise is buffeted by space storms and hostile ships in the normal course of its mission, why aren’t they better secured?
  • Geordi is a poker cheat! Since you don’t have to show your cards at the end of a hand, Geordi is wilfully gaining more information than the other players. Somebody stop him!
  • Riker makes a comment about Worf looking well for someone who has been eating sickbay food, but unless Crusher is deliberately restricting his diet, Worf can have whatever he wants from the replicator.
  • Klingons have massive redundancies in their internal organs, enabling them to keep on fighting even when vital organs are damaged.

Summary – Ethics: Dr Russell is almost certainly a close friend and colleague of Dr Pulaski.

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