“Level Blue is your critical care area, I presume?” – The Doctor
“Level Blue is the area which it’s most critical that we provide excellent care” – Chellick
I love the Voyager episode Critical Care. I think the concept of assigning a value to a person’s contribution to society and then medically treating them according to the output figure is so shocking. Yet is it unbelievable?
If resources are short, then a system is needed in order to distribute healthcare in an efficient and fair manner. But this is not necessarily equitable, so how would a society devise a method of sharing? One would assume you would treat the most needy and vulnerable first, which is why the principles shown in Critical Care are so hard to grasp. Why would you prolong the life of a healthy individual at the expense of saving the life of another?
“An agricultural engineer is obviously more important than a waste processor” – Chellick
“More important to whom?” – The Doctor
“Society. When your resources are limited, you have to prioritise” – Chellick
One of the themes of this episode is the concept of worthiness of an individual. I think most would agree that it is not straightforward to define an individual’s value, which was demonstrated well in this episode, with the mine worker Tebbis. Tebbis is shown to be a bright, friendly individual with a great capacity for learning. Yet because he is a mine worker, he is not believed to be of significant value to society. However, the viewer can see the intelligence and potential he demonstrates, and the care he shows when interacting with other patients. Can a person really be assessed by an array of calculations and algorithms? Anyone who met Tebbis would probably agree to his ‘worth’.
“So you base your treatments on whether patients have particular abilities” – The Doctor
“It’s much more complicated than that. The allocator assesses the entire individual” – Chellick
“And reduces his life to a number” – The Doctor
How can worthiness be assessed? How can someone who does not know an individual and their circumstances determine what they can achieve, what they can offer, what they can contribute? Their environment, education and their interactions may offer some idea of what a person can accomplish, but can it really give us the whole picture? No. Greatness can come from anywhere. Who knows how someone could behave or react when put in a situation that requires them to step up, and become more than the sum of their parts?
Each individual has strengths, but we all have the potential to exceed even our own expectations. Perhaps this is why many people admire and root for an ‘underdog’, because it makes us believe in our own power to rise above our own or others expectations. You can’t measure spirit and passion.
Value and worthiness are not pre-determined, and are not unchangeable. It does not take into account ambition, determination and drive. A person is a dynamic being, constantly bettering themselves, learning and changing. We are shaped not only by our individual talents but the choices we make in life. The concept of assessing an individual according to set criteria defined by a government can be seen as a form of prejudice; it’s just another way of marking out differences between individuals and penalising them for said differences. The discrimination displayed is perhaps more subtle than other forms of prejudice, but still evident.
I think Critical Care was an important episode to challenge our own moral boundaries; because some of the concepts in principle are not so alien to how many countries divide assets such as healthcare. The episode challenges the systems our society has in place, and is classic Star Trek in that it addresses moral grey areas and provokes further thought and discussion. It is an effective insight into the bureaucracy of healthcare and how a society can often lose sight of what really matters in terms of a person’s wellbeing.
“Don’t you have any ethical standards?” – The Doctor
“You are hardly in a position to speak to me about ethics. Lying, stealing – any other crimes you wish to confess?” – Chellick
“I was trying to save lives” – The Doctor
“And I am trying to save society” – Chellick
The absolute care and compassion of the Doctor contrasts well with the Administrator’s hard-headed, pragmatic nature, and the difference between the two shows the widening gap of what society wants to achieve and what it could potentially, and harmfully, become.
It raises the question: does ‘bettering’ society necessarily better humanity?