Star Trek: The Next Generation
Air date: 3/2/1992
Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore
Story by Sara Charno & Stuart Charno
Directed by Chip Chalmers
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
An accident in a cargo bay crushes seven of Worf's vertebrae; Crusher tells Worf the injury may be permanent and that he may be a paraplegic the rest of his life. This is not good news for our resident Klingon (not that it would be for anyone, granted); he sees this injury as the effective end of his life — so much so that he wants Riker to help him perform a Klingon suicide ritual in the name of "honor."
"Ethics" a better episode than I had remembered from when I originally saw it, and also better than what I know from its reputation. Granted, there are some very silly notions in this episode, most of them beginning and ending with Worf and his beliefs. The notion of a Klingon warrior seeing honor in assisted suicide seems fairly absurd to me, especially since there are conventional treatment options that would give back Worf as much as 60 percent of his mobility.
Riker is appalled that he has been asked to kill a friend whose life is very far from worthless. If there's a saving grace to the story's notion of Worf's desire to die, it's that Riker argues vehemently against it more than once and denounces it as the selfish insanity that it is. The flip side of that coin is Picard, whose insistence on respecting cultural beliefs has him defending Worf's point of view — never mind that this ignores the fact that Worf is a Starfleet officer who has duties, and Picard is the captain of a starship that arguably should be looking out for the good of the community and not just this one person's wishes.
Enter into this fray Dr. Toby Russell (Caroline Kava), a surgeon who wants to try an experimental procedure to replace Worf's spinal cord with cloned tissue; there's a very good chance Worf would die on the operating table under this procedure, which has never been tried on a living patient. Crusher is not impressed with Russell's methods; Russell puts the acceleration of her research ahead of individual patients' welfare. In one scene, Russell treats a man with an experimental procedure rather than a conventional one, and the man dies. Would he have died otherwise? Probably, but Russell seems more interested in advancing her research than saving the patient. Crusher has a big-time problem with this, and rightly so. Their confrontations are a selling point here.
"Ethics" ends up being a fairly engaging hour that examines these arguments of personal responsibility alongside the beliefs that come into conflict. There's the two-pronged approach of doctors carrying out (or not) the Hippocratic Oath, as well as Riker as a man trying to balance the need to respect his own beliefs alongside those of his friend. There's a nice monologue where Riker calls out Worf for choosing such a selfish course of action that doesn't even consider that it would leave Alexander an orphan. (Worf makes for one awful patient, I must say. I also must say that the story acknowledges that point.)
The final act, where Worf goes through with the experimental procedure, over Crusher's objections — and actually dies (temporarily) on the operating table — is well executed, albeit shamelessly manipulative. And, of course, Worf — who is in what looks to be extended rehab by the end of the episode — will be magically 100 percent by the next installment. But for all its flaws, I found this episode solid because of its ability to argue the various sides of its issues, even if I didn't buy all of them.