Star Trek ‘Nothing Human’ (1998)

Last modified: May 22, 2017

The Chief Physician of a spaceship creates a hologram of an expert on ‘exobiology’ to consult with in order to save a crewmember. The consult goes well until the crewmember sees the exobiology-expert and refuses further treatment due to his involvement in a series of experiments that killed thousands of subjects. Without the help of the exobiology specialist, crewmember Torres might die; what is the doctor to do?

Relevance

The main premise of the episode is this: we should use data or information that is derived from tortious and therefore unethical experiments or studies.

This movie is included in the Fiction movies for RCR education.

Key words: Ethics / Decision making
Medium: CBS (This Link was last checked 14-09-2016)
Fragments: 2

  • Fragment 1: [24:40-26:26]
  • Fragment 2: [31:08-32:10]

Internet Movie Database (IMDb) about this movie: IMDb
Action / Adventure / Science-fiction / playing time: 46 min.
Note: The Star Trek Voyager episodes may be viewed on CBS.com (This Link was last checked 14-09-2016). You may see one episode for free, but in order to acquire access to all episodes or watch an episode more than once a CBS all access prescription should be bought. ‘Nothing Human’ is episode 8 of Star Trek Voyager’s fifth season.

Content and context

A Doctor (Robert Picardo), who is Chief Physician on a spaceship, creates a hologram of an expert on ‘exobiology’, called Crell Moset (David Clennon). He does so in order to consult with him about a patient aboard his ship: crewmember Torres (Roxann Dawson). Torres was attacked by an injured ‘cytoplasmic life-form’ and this life form is now attached to Torres and lives of her as a parasite. The consult goes well until the crewmember sees the exobiology-expert and refuses further treatment. This is due to his involvement in, and possibly his responsibility for, a series of experiments that killed thousands of ‘Bajorans’ (an extra-terrestrial life form). The dilemma is that without the help of the exobiology specialist, crewmember Torres might die; what is the doctor to do?

Fragments

The selected two fragments of the film should be viewed in sequence as they share an educational purpose.

Fragment 1: [24:40-26:26]

In Fragment 1, a crewmember (a Bajoran) speaks open heartedly about the experiments of Crell Moset, which he witnessed closely and first-hand. The Bajoran Crew member ends his speech with the request that all the research done by Crell Moset should be deleted from the database and that the hologram of Crell Moset should be destroyed.

Fragment 2: [31:08-32:10]

In fragment 2, we witness a conversation between Crell Moset and the spaceship’s Chief Physician. They discuss the ethical considerations for the use of Crell Moset’s data to save the life of crewmember Torres.

Ethics

The main premise of the episode is this: we should not use data or information that is derived from tortious and therefore unethical experiments or studies. The question of whether or not we should use this data is a very interesting and ethically challenging one.
Crewmember Torres refuses treatment from Crell Moset due to his past involvement in horrific experiments, despite the fact that he could save her life. One could consider this the right thing to do, especially from a deontological point of view. Deontological theories tell us what we ought to do; Deontology is the science (Logos) of duty (Deon). The line of argumentation leading to Torres’ stance comes from the thought that results that are derived from experiments that are performed in an unethical way should not be used. It is our duty to protect science from unethical practises and therefore we should not use data that is obtained in an unethical way.

On the other side, we could pose the following; the data is already there and what happened cannot be reversed and will not be directly influenced by your actions. This could be an argument in favour of using the data, especially when crewmember Torres is dying.
An overview of the arguments in favour of and against using this data can be found in this article.

Realism

Even though we are far from a futuristic world where we can download a medical expert and turn him into a hologram, we could still imagine running into the same problems the doctor had in this episode. We could in the near future be confronted with results of a (medical) experiment performed in a country at war that yield very important results, but do this in a matter that is far from ethical by our standards of research ethics.

We have already experienced this in the past, after the Second World War. The Nazi regime also conducted terrible experiments on people in concentration camps that, although they were brutally cruel and inhumane, have produced scientifically valuable results. Should we use this data?

Suggested use in education

This fragment and episode can be used in sessions on the discussion of using data that is obtained in an unethical manner. It could accompany a lecture on the History of Research Ethics or medical experiments during the Nazi Regime (or any other wartime regime for that matter). The main question that could be discussed is: is it unethical to use data that are obtained in an unethical way?

A great set of cases that may accompany this episode or the fragment with the corresponding text is found on this website. Scroll to the section on ‘Proposed Use of Nazi Scientific Data’.

Ending

The captain of the space ship lets the ship’s doctor proceed with the help of Crell Moset, against the wishes of crewmember Torres. Torres recovers completely, but is rather upset with the decision. The captain comes into her quarters to explain herself, telling Torres that she did what she thought was best. The ship’s doctor is left to decide what the fate of Crell Moset will be.

A short conversation between the doctor and Moset that debates the medical triumph versus the ethical considerations ends with the doctor deleting Moset’s hologram program and related files. Crell Moset: ‘Ethics, morality, conscience, funny how they all go out of the airlock when we need something; are you and I really so different?’

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