Are Vulcans racist

Star Trek and the Ethics of Medicine

The year is 2266. The USS Enterprise lands on the planet Alpha-177, whose geological structures are to be explored. Due to a malfunction in the transporter, Captain James Tiberius Kirk is split into two halves on his return to the mothership: a friendly, sensitive, calm, peace-loving individual and a vulgar, alcoholic, aggressive and violent self.

After the brutal Kirk beats up a technician and tries to rape a female crew member, the other question is whether their captain has to be killed - and thus the good part in him dies too - or whether the peaceful Kirk can learn his evil sides to control.

It is obvious that the ship's doctor McCoy advocates the life-sustaining variant. As a doctor, he felt obliged to take the Hippocratic oath even in the 23rd century; he is also close friends with Kirk. But Mr. Spock's commitment to the captain may surprise you.

After all, feelings are alien to the half-Vulcan, he lets himself be guided by logic alone. Spock, however, is the only one who recognizes that the supposedly negative properties are also of value: A commander cannot issue orders without hardness, coldness and willpower.

A distinctive person

In fact, some parts of the Star Trek series, which began as a TV series in 1966 and was continued in cinemas in a complementary manner from 1979, discuss fundamental questions of medical ethics.

The episode "The Enemy Within" (German first broadcast on July 22, 1972) outlined above, broadcast on October 6, 1966, was written by the US physician and philosopher Professor H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. in his basic work "The Foundations of Bioethics "(1986) analyzed.

What makes a person a distinctive person? Can one use force to protect a patient from himself? Disregard his will for his own good?

"Such questions also require a differentiated answer in everyday clinical practice," emphasized the theologian and medical ethicist Dr. Kurt W. Schmidt at the advanced training event "Medicine and Ethics in the Future - 50 Years of Spaceship Enterprise" in Frankfurt am Main.

And further: "Ultimately, science fiction films are not about the future, but about the here and now: Our current fears and worries, like our wishes and hopes, are only projected onto the future."

What psychotherapists think about it today

So how do we deal with the "dark side" of humans today? "Current disorder-specific approaches in psychotherapy - for example for the treatment of dissociative identity disorders or certain personality disorders that one can associate in the film - focus more on strengthening existing resources, developing alternative behaviors and improving impulse control than on a moral assessment of 'good' and 'bad' Shares and their processing ".

This was explained in his lecture by Dr. Peter Wagner, senior physician in the geriatric psychiatry department at the Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics at the Agaplesion Markus Hospital in Frankfurt am Main.

"Nevertheless, the formation of an appropriate, not derogatory, but also not over-idealizing self-image, as well as self-acceptance, is currently an important therapeutic goal in many cases," he said.

Therapeutic changes

In "The Enemy Within", Captain Kirk only uses his intellect and insight to be able to undo the split. "At this point the film touches on a fundamental analogy to psychotherapy," says Wagner.

Wager goes on to say: "Here, too, it is the cognitive processes such as the reception and processing of information that prepare therapeutic changes and enable them at all."

Is the value of life indivisible? Or may a life be sacrificed in order to save many? Captain Kirk and Commander Spock take opposing positions on this central question of medical ethics in the referring films "Der Zorn des Khan" (1982) and "In Search of Mr. Spock" (1984).

In the earlier strip, Spock goes to the Enterprise's irradiated engine room to repair the drive and thereby save his spaceship from destruction. His rescue act succeeds, but Spock dies.

Fortunately, he was able to transfer his spirit ("Katra)" to on-board doctor McCoy. That enables Spock to be resuscitated in the next film.

Is the common good above that of the individual?

"The well-being of many outweighs the well-being of a few or of one," said the Vulcan man before his death. Kirk in turn justifies the rescue of his officer, in which he risked the lives of his entire crew, with the words "Because the good of one weighs as much as the good of many."

"Spock reveals himself to be an imperturbable rationalist and utilitarian," said Privatdozent Dr. Johann S. Ach from the Center for Bioethics at the University of Münster during the training in Frankfurt.

"For him, from a moral point of view, only the consequences of an action count, namely the consequences in the form of well-being or happiness. His own well-being counts no more and no less than the welfare of anyone else."

Spock's self-sacrifice frees his colleagues from the burden of having to make this difficult decision themselves.

Kirk, Kant and the Value of Life

And Kirk? "You might be tempted to assume a Kant-oriented way of thinking," says bioethicist Ach. According to the Königsberg philosopher, man is an "end in itself", so his value can never be set off against other values.

If Kirk were actually a Kantian, he would have to condemn all kinds of considerations, explained Ach in Frankfurt. "He would have to reject the separation of Siamese twins, if this is only possible at the price of the death of a twin, and he would also have to reject the common practice of triage decisions in disaster medicine."

In fact, the Münster bioethicist does not consider Captain Kirk to be a follower of Kant. For two reasons: On the one hand, Kirk refused the command of the Starfleet High Command, ordered the destruction of his spaceship and lied - which Kant categorically rejects.

On the other hand, Kirk de facto weighs up himself: "He counts life against life when he claims that in the specific situation it is quite legitimate to expose the many (that is, the 400-man crew) to a fatal risk in order to avoid the To save one. "

It is precisely the fact that, according to him, a life is worth as much as any other that makes his decision possible. Oh: "That must sound like a perverse logic for both the utilitarian and the Kantian."

Star Trek

Star Trek is the original title of the US series. In Germany the title was changed to "Raumschiff Enterprise".

Content of the series: The spaceship Enterprise explores unexplored areas of the universe. Its international occupation is confronted with unknown phenomena, life forms and enemies.

Medical ethical issues, which the Star Trek authors have consciously or unconsciously made a topic in the series, were discussed at a medical training course in Frankfurt.