Posted in rant, Rewatch, Star Trek, Television shows, tv reviews

The Rewatch 190: Ethics

Series: Star Trek: TNG
Episode: 5.16 Ethics (2/17/1992)
Rating: 3/5
Redshirt Status: 0/1/35

Notable Guest Stars:
Caroline Kava (Toby Russell)-  Kava is not only an actress but a playwright.  She has written and or adapted several plays for off-Broadway performance.


CONTENT WARNING: This review, due to the episode, contains references to Assisted Suicide/ Suicidal thoughts.

This is one of my least favorite episodes of the series. This episode has three subjects, yet one is totally ignored. The first (and generally ignored one) is the idea of disability.  The second is the idea of ritual suicide or euthanasia. The third is the ethics involving medicine in the 24th century.

I will start with the easiest to talk about:  Medical ethics.  All through this episode is the argument between Beverly and Dr. Russell on medical ethics.  Dr. Russell seems to take a lot of short cuts, and doesn’t necessarily use what does work when she does medicine. She’ll skip to the unproven before attempting the procedures already proven.  I think the theme in the episode is finding that area where you aren’t afraid to push onto new things, yet you are cautious with people’s lives, which Dr. Russell does not seem to be.

Dr. Crusher has been known to try experimental treatments, but usually with study and only in emergency situations.  Worf’s situation was not what I would call an emergency. He is paralyzed from the waist down.  He can’t walk, but he’s able to breathe on his own and has most of his upper body function. I agree with Beverly in that conventional approaches would have been best.

The “new” technology had a 37% success rate. That’s a 63% chance of death.  Its more likely that you’ll die then it will help you. Extremely bad odds. And the fact that Russell was still crowing her success afterwards even though Worf was technically dead for several minutes makes me uncomfortable. She doesn’t seem to have any qualms about her research, which I find disturbing a little. She seems almost psychopathic in her regards to having no compassion for her patients or the repercussions they have after her treatments.

Theme two is Worf’s desire to have a ritual suicide. This is not a new subject with Worf, as I discussed in a previous episode that Worf has suicidal tendences. When he sees himself as a failed Klingon he tends to believe it is time to kill himself.  The first time Deanna got to him and convinced him to put the knife down. This time it was Riker, who Worf establishes is his best friend, or at least the friend he trusts above the rest to help him.

There is a lot of talk in this episode of respecting others beliefs.  Picard basically tells Riker he should do it as a measure of respecting Worf’s Klingon cultural beliefs but no one seems to be bothered that Worf, who would know Riker’s attitude towards suicide, did not respect his friend’s beliefs.   Picard is a bit of a hypocrite in this episode, as he has in the past ignore belief systems because of his own ethics, particularly when people dying are concerned.And I find it really odd that he decides not once but twice to convince two of his senior officers to push aside their ethical beliefs to allow Worf to die.

Riker, eventually, decides to help his friend.  HE researches the ritual and comes to find out that according to rhe ritual, it’s the duty of the eldest son to attend a ritual suicide.  Thankfully for Alexander’s mental health Worf does not take this option anymore, deciding to take a chance on the risky 37% survival rate surgery.

This whole storyline had two problems with me.  One has to deal with disabilities, which I will get into later, but also the idea of Euthanasia.  It’s a hard topic to discuss, especially when some have very firm beliefs either way. There are in fact several cultures that have ritual suicides as well.  Euthanasia – or assisted suicide – always seemed to me to be something used for the terminally ill who want to choose how they leave their lives.  It always seems a bit uncomfortable when people perfectly healthy (or able to live long lives) decide to use it, as Worf does. Perhaps that is my personal bias. Personally, and I try not to let this affect how I see things, I’m against suicide.  I don’t agree with villainizing those who are victims of it, and I haven’t quite figured out my personal feelings on assisted suicide for the terminally ill. That being said, my issue is mainly how Worf’s disability is shown as being worse then death.

Worf, despite his opinion, is not terminal. He has lost his lower body functions, yes, but he could live a long healthy life despite that. He is disabled, and that brings us to the third issue with this episode.  The idea that a disability is so horrible one would rather be dead. While depression and suicidal thoughts in the recently disabled is a true and often unrelated fact, this episode could have done better.  They could have shown Worf slowly adjusting to life without his legs.  They use Klingon physiology as a Deus Machina for the surgery, it could have been used for eventual healing of the spinal cord. I think the episode could have been stronger showing Worf facing the battle for regaining his mobility and not just laying in a bed deciding he wanted to die instead of having a disability. They could have had Deanna seeing him for depression. There is many choices they could have made to improve this section.

Geordi, who is the only canonically disabled character on TNG, is surprisingly absent for most of this episode. I find that odd, especially as he was a witness to the accident that caused Worf’s paraplegia. I think Geordi should have been able to talk to Worf.  Deanna should have been seeing to him with his depression.  Klingons can get depressed too.

My end opinion is that they were trying to bring up some issues, and just failed to show them in a way that connected with me, at least.  I did ask my group of Star Trek friends what they thought and the general opinion of this episode is poor.  Particularly the implication that disability is worse then death.

What did you think?

Interesting Notes:

  • Written by Sara B. Cooper, Stuart Charno (Story) Ronald D. Moore (Teleplay)
  • Directed by Chip Chalmers
  • Ronald D. Moore is credited with saying that he disliked this episode because he didn’t like medical shows.  Which begs the question – why did he write one?  I can’t find anything about what the original story was about, so I’m not sure how similar or different it was from the eventual teleplay.


  • Apparently, there is one thing that the future isn’t beyond yet.
  • There appears to be a scientific body that regulates and studies medical innovations.


  • How disability is portrayed
  • Ritual suicide/Euthanasia and how it is portrayed.
  • Does no one care about Alexander’s mental health?

Screencap via


A thirty-something Graphic Designer and writer who likes to blog about books, movies and History.

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