star trek ethics

This is pretty geeky. But today I watched a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "Ethics." In it, Worf is paralyzed by an accident from the waist down. He doesn't have use of his legs so he considers himself without honor and deserving of death. He asks Commander Riker to help him commit ritual suicide, to "end his life with dignity and honor." Two viewpoints are expressed in response to Worf's desire to commit suicide.

First, Captain Picard believes it's wrong to impose one's own cultural values onto another or even make a judgment regarding the rightness or wrongess of it. He urges the others to honor Worf's request and allow him or help him to commit suicide. Picard champions the cultural relativism that the Federation holds so dear.

Commander Riker, however, takes issue with Worf's request. Riker comes into Worf's hospital room and says he thinks the custom of ritual suicide is "despicable" and lectures Worf on the value of life. He tells Worf that doing this would be a copout, and tells Worf to ask his young son to do it, which is the Klingon custom.

Worf ends up changing his mind and opting not to kill himself. He undergoes a risky operation, and of course has his paralysis cured. It is Star Trek, after all, where nothing ever really changes.

I just thought that the interaction of cultural values was interesting in this episode. Picard's insistence upon honoring Worf's culture and beliefs seemed so weak next to Riker's passionate insistence on the value of life and his challenge to Worf to not be so eager to welcome death. So who was right in this situation? Picard for wanting to honor Worf's cultural values and beliefs, or Riker for calling Worf's culture "despicable" and convincing him to fight for his life?

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