An Ethical Dilemma On A Large Scale

I was watching the Star Trek Enterprise episode “Dear Doctor” last night. The plot of the story is that the ship’s doctor, a Denobulan named Dr. Phlox, while skirting around the situation of possibly having a female human crew member be romantically interested in him gets a chance to help find a cure to a disease that is killing an alien species that the Enterprise has just met. The episode is put in such a way that Phlox is dictating a verbal message which he later plans to send to his former colleague & friend, Dr. Jeremy Lucas, who is a human doctor on an exchange program in Deobula at the moment. Phlox, with the help of crewman Elizabeth Cutler & Ensign Hoshi Sato takes samples and conducts tests, hoping to find a cure. The alien species, the Valakians, are a pre-warp civilization and under usual circumstances the Starfleet crew aren’t supposed to make contact with them but the small ship of ill Valakians had hailed them and also their people have already had contact with two other advanced alien races who tried to help them but failed. As the lives of 50 million Valakians are at stake – they could die out completely in a matter of a few 100 years – Captain Archer sends Phlox to help find a cure.

Phlox takes on the challenge and meets the doctors in the lab on the surface but he is however surprised to find that there is another sentient humanoid species on the same planet, albeit not at all quite as advanced or evolved as the Valakians. This second race is called the Menk and, although the Valakians take care of them and provide food & shelter for them, they are kind of treated as glorified pets by the vastly superior Valakians. The Menk are apparently not affected by the disease and are a hard working bunch. Dr. Phlox, Hoshi & Elizabeth are surprised to find out that the Menk seem far more intelligent than they thought –  actually quite advanced as they demonstrate that they are able to learn some English, and organize tissue samples correctly. However the Menk have always lived in a part of the planet where the soil is not suited for crops and hence the technologically superior Valakians give them whatever is needed in exchange for mostly menial work. As Phlox works on finding a cure, Archer is asked by a Valakian for warp drive technology so that that if Enterprise cannot find a cure, the Valakians can search for other races who might be willing to help them. As the alien race did not posses rudimentary understand of warp technology or have any experience working with anti-matter, Archer is reluctant to teach them to make a warp drive. It is then that Phlox finishes his research and speaks to the captain.

There’s a question that arises: how much can you ‘interfere’ in a developing civilization? Dr. Phlox develops a medicine that can halt the progress of a disease that is killing off the Valakians but feels that if they continue to survive, then the Menk will continue to be dominated and not have a chance to evolve to their potential. Phlox says that he thinks it is incorrect to be helping the Valakians – that the Menk are supposed to survive, and will only be allowed to properly evolve and prosper if they are not tied to the Valakians. Phlox explains that the “disease” is actually an inherent flaw in Valakian DNA; they’ve reached an evolutionary dead end. Archer however demands the cure and Phlox gives it to him. However later Archer makes the statement that he has reconsidered the matter, and that he agrees that the Enterprise and the human race did not go to the stars to play god for other species. They go down to the planet and give the Valakian doctors a medicine which will ease the symptoms and help them. They state they won’t give them a warp drive, that their race must help itself.

I find this episode presenting a deep & meaningful question and proposes an ethical dilemma. How do you make that choice – to not help another sentient humanoid race and rescue them only to let another race, with possibilities of become more evolved, survive and thrive in their stead? The former race was meant to become extinct as per nature and how do you change that? Or…how do you stand by and not do anything or not do enough, thereby sealing the fate of an entire species, millions of humanoids belonging to one race and let  nature take it’s own course?

I like this episode a lot.

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