Warning: this post contains discussion of suicide and euthanasia. Spoilers for the TNG episodes, “Ethics,” “Too Short a Season,” and “The Loss,” and for the DS9 episode, “Melora.”
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Ethics,” Mr. Worf acquires a spinal cord injury while on-duty that partially paralyzes him, leaving him unable to walk. By Klingon tradition, he is obligated to commit ritual suicide (hegh’bat) because he can no longer stand to face his enemies in battle. Dr. Crusher and a visiting doctor with a shady ethical record work to cure Worf, while Riker battles with the role Worf has asked him to play in the suicide ritual—namely handing Worf the knife. The episode comes down to Worf undergoing an experimental procedure that will either cure or kill him. The Status Quo being God (despite the promise the series made when it killed off Tasha Yar), Worf is cured and back to his able-bodied self by the end of the episode.
It’s fairly obvious what the Official Disability Rights Opinion™ on this episode would be: the Klingon tradition of hegh’bat is wrong. People with disabilities can live fulfilling lives if society lets them. Picard and Riker articulate this Opinion™ quite plainly in the episode.
And while I certainly agree that hegh’bat is wrong, this is Star Trek. The Official Disability Rights Opinion™ isn’t enough to understand what’s going on. We gotta bring in critiques of racism, colonialism, and the Western concept of the independent individual—critiques that come from the work performed by women of color in transnational feminist theory and activism.
In other words, this post is gonna acknowledge that Klingons don’t appear to have a very progressive position on disability, but mainly it’s gonna turn around and look at the hypocrisy in Picard and Riker’s moral high ground regarding hegh’bat. And to do this we have to look at one of the major problems I have with TNG… Continue reading ‘The “Ethics” of TNG-era Imperialism and Ableism’