The Burnettwork’s Willow Yang has a bone to pick with Captain Janeway and her ethical (or not) decision-making when it comes to the persona known as Tuvix (from the episode “Tuvix” S.2 E.24).
So, you probably already know which side I take on the debate that formed the central conflict of the Voyager Season 2 episode, Tuvix.
Before I proceed onwards with my defence of the titular character however, I do have to take a moment to debunk the line regarding lysosomal enzymes. As you might recall, the alien orchids that were responsible for the freak transporter accident that resulted in the merging of Tuvok and Neelix had “lysosomal enzymes”, a feature that was presented as being something unusual. Anyone who is familiar with cellular biology, however, will know that this is complete, utter bullshit.
The entire purpose of a lysosome (which is present in practically all eukaryotic cells, including ours) is to store enzymes that are involved in the breakdown of waste products in the cell. Having enzymes in the lysosome just means that your lysosome is functioning normally; you should be concerned if you do not have lysosomal enzymes because that means there’s something seriously wrong with you.
Indeed, there is a class of metabolic disorders known as “lysosomal storage disease” or LSD (and not the good kind either) where the lysosome is missing one or more key enzymes due to a genetic defect, resulting in a number of unpleasant symptoms including deafness, blindness, seizures, cardiac problems, developmental problems, and, of course, death.
But onto the central conflict of the story.
I personally don’t agree with the argument that Tuvix should be destroyed simply because he wasn’t conceived in a natural fashion. The transporter did create a second Riker in The Next Generation episode, Second Chances. Is it justifiable to destroy the second Riker for the sole reason that he was created in a bizarre freak accident? Would people still think it’s justifiable to kill Tuvix if his death wouldn’t have resulted in Tuvok and Neelix coming back?
If the answer to these two questions are “no”, then it means that we must believe, at least to some extent, that the second Riker and Tuvix are lifeforms, regardless of how they had come into existence.
Should they be bestowed the same anatomical rights that biologically-created sentient life forms take for granted? I think it’s quite obvious that they are both sentient beings, and I personally do believe that being sentient beings should make you automatically eligible for basic rights to autonomy. If Data has gained the right to refuse to undergo a procedure that he judged to be too risky in Measure of a Man, I think that someone like Tuvix has a very legitimate case to be able to refuse to undergo a procedure that would most definitely result in his own destruction.
Hence, the argument of the episode for me isn’t whether or not Tuvix has a right to live – because I think he absolutely does – but rather more of a case of whether “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. Is it justifiable to take one life in order to bring back two lives? Is it justifiable to sacrifice someone who has no connection to the community, no loved ones, in order to bring back two people who have family and friends?
I personally do have mixed feelings about Tuvix (I’m referring to the episode now, not the character). On one hand, I really liked the moral dilemma that was presented, and I thought the resolution was bold and haunting. On the other, however, I really disliked how many of the characters acted in this episode.I personally did not have a problem with the decision to kill Tuvix in on itself (even though I do find the character of Neelix to be annoying, and I would have been pleased to see him gone from the show); my problem lies with how the rest of the crew reacted to the choice, with the exceptions being the doctor and, surprisingly, Janeway herself. At the very least Janeway had the conviction to stand up for what she believed in, to be able to look at Tuvix in the eye and kill him because she thought that was the right thing to do.
The rest of the Voyager bridge pretty much all turned into spineless jellyfish. They were all too afraid, too cowardly, to say a single word as an innocent person desperately pleaded with them for help; they were all content to just turn the other way. And in the end, Tuvix proved to be the better person by forgiving all of his so-called friends, telling them that he knows they’re “good people” even though they all silently wanted him dead.
I found the whole scene horrifying and shameful. It has caused me to lose respect for the characters.
On a broader level, however, I do think that the rights and fair treatment of clones is a rather surprising blind spot in the Federation, which has consistently advocated for the recognition of the rights of various forms of artificial intelligence like androids, holograms, and exocomps.
While Star Trek has almost unequivocally shown that the abuse and exploitation of sentient AI is wrong, it’s quite inconsistent when it comes to clones. For instance, in the Season 1 episode of Deep Space 9, Odo arrests Ibudan for murdering his clone because “Killing your own clone is still murder”. However, just a season later in Whispers, the clone of Miles O’Brien, who had the exact same personality and memories as, and fully believed himself to be, the original O’Brien, gets dispatched without a second’s thought. A similar thing occurred in the Next Generation episode, Up the Long Ladder, where Riker and Pulaski destroyed their clones without hesitation or any repercussions.
Why is it that we seem to place more value on biological life that’s created via the conventional way, the “natural” way, versus biological life that’s created by cloning or other artificial manners? Clones (and Tuvix) fit all of Maddox’s criteria for sentience – that being intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness – and unlike AIs, they do additionally also possess the same emotions as a regular person. What justification do we have for treating them with such prejudice and disdain?
“A civilization is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”