Chopping up Children for Tuvix: A Teleporter Dilemma

A philosophical science fiction review of Star Trek Voyager: Tuvix.
Why Star Trek Voyager is one of the best philosophical science fiction series to watch.philosophical science fiction review of Star Trek Voyager: Tuvix

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About six months ago, planets aligned, a neutron star pulsed just right, and Mrs. Werbeloff and I decided to watch the entire seven seasons of Star Trek Voyager. (By the way, Mrs. Werbeloff is neither married to me, nor is he a woman. And he probably wouldn’t like being called Mrs. And I imagine he’d object to adopting my surname.)

Anyway, Mrs. Werbeloff and I embarked on this historic voyage with nothing but barely concealed skepticism, medium-cooked steaks, and all-too-frequently, chocolate. I can’t tell you exactly what we expected at first. Maybe a little entertainment. Lots of nerdy giggles. We approached it with a healthy portion of derisive, subtly-superior, oh-that’s-shit-but-we’ll-tolerate it gusto.

Well fuck, were we wrong.

Star Trek Voyager, it turns out, is damned good television.

So much so that Mrs. Werbeloff, who was new to the Star Trek universe when we started this expedition, has been in mourning since we completed the final episode. I find him at 1 am, fingers quivering, ploughing through Netflix with heroin-level withdrawal. He looks up at me with lost, baleful eyes. “There’s nothing else like it,” he says, his bottom lip so low it could mop the floor.

Yeah, I hear you. Star Trek. Hmmph. Something for pimply teenage boys whose most successful sexual adventure has been with the (now malfunctioning) family vacuum cleaner. I hear you, but I’m telling you, you’re wrong.

I knew there was something more to the Star Trek franchise when we encountered an episode which put the philosopher in me into previously unknown orgasmic confusion. (In another life I lecture ethics, philosophy of religion, and social ontology to pernicious philosophy undergrads). The episode is called Tuvix, and by the end of this blog post, I think you’ll agree that the top of your priority list should list a Star Trek binge.

Here’s the premise of Tuvix – and no, you don’t need any Star Trek knowledge to understand what comes next. Neelix and Tuvok are teleported down to a planet to collect plant specimens (more about the teleporter [they call it the ‘transporter’] shortly). Neelix is loud. Gregarious. He’s the chef, and the ship’s morale officer. He’s also particularly ugly (ignoring what might amount to interstellar bigotry, Mrs. Werbeloff calls him the “space cockroach”).

philosophical science fiction review of Star Trek Voyager: Tuvix

Tuvok, on the other hand, is a Vulcan. Reserved, logical, considered. He’s the ship’s ultra-serious security chief. At the spritely age of at least a century (his real age is a closely guarded secret), Tuvok might be considered the opposite personality pole of Neelix. This is what makes the events that ensue particularly interesting.

philosophical science fiction review of Star Trek Voyager: Tuvix

So, Tuvok and Neelix have been teleported down to an alien planet to collect plant samples. After plenty of bickering – the two don’t like each other – they achieve their mission, and are teleported back to the ship. BUT, little do they know, the plant they just harvested has the property of muddling DNA. The result is that instead of the expected result of there being two individuals on the teleportation pad on the ship, when they beam them up there is only one person. The alien plant messed with the teleporter, and caused it to combine the two officers together, resulting in … Tuvix.

philosophical science fiction review of Star Trek Voyager: Tuvix

The ship’s crew panics. We need to separate Tuvix into his component persons ASAP, declares Captain Janeway. The Doctor (who’s one of the best characters in any TV series I’ve encountered – more on that in a future blog post) sets to work finding a solution. But the problem is that the plant enzymes have scrambled their DNA so badly, he says there’s no quick way to separate out Tuvix.

Tuvix is happy and healthy, however. He has the culinary and social skills of Neelix, and the logical and rational capacity of Tuvok. As a combination of the two, he’s an extraordinary crew member, capable of more than either of his ‘parents’, as he lovingly calls Neelix and Tuvok. (He’s also slightly less ugly than Neelix, which is a plus).

Months pass, during which Tuvix develops relationships that neither of his parents had before him. He forms new bonds, develops new skills, and becomes a valued, contributing member of the crew.

And, here lies the dilemma. Eventually, the Doctor finds a way to separate out Tuvix into his component ‘parents’. Initially when Tuvix appeared on the teleporter pad, he was happy to be separated out. But now, months later, he’s far more reluctant. He appeals to the Doctor and Captain Janeway. I’m more than the sum of my original parts, he says. I’m neither Neelix nor Tuvok. They’re dead. I’m Tuvix – a distinct individual with my own rights. And if you separate me out, I’ll die. You’ll be murdering me.

philosophical science fiction review of Star Trek Voyager: Tuvix

Captain Janeway is faced with an awful dilemma. On the one hand, if she leaves Tuvix as he is, she’s consigning Neelix and Tuvok to oblivion. Tuvok has a wife and children. They’ll never see him again. And Neelix has a particularly gorgeous Ocampan girlfriend on board (why she chose Neelix is bizarre), who misses him dreadfully. She doesn’t bond with Tuvix the way she’d loved Neelix.

On the other hand, if Janeway separates out Tuvix into his component parents, she’s committing murder, and denying the individuality of a man who is clearly an individual. She’s undermining the value of the relationships and skills that Tuvix has developed since his inception months earlier.

So, what should Captain Janeway do? Separate Tuvix or not?

Before I give you some philosophical arguments for a solution to this question, I’d like to know what you think. What’s your intuition?

If you voted like Captain Janeway did, you decided that Tuvix should be separated out into Neelix and Tuvok. She does this, despite him kicking and screaming all the way to the medical bed. Why should we think Captain Janeway made the right choice? Here are two arguments.

Tuvok and Neelix had no choice when they became one person. They didn’t know it was going to happen, and if they had, presumably they would not have chosen to join into a single person. Tuvok and Neelix don’t particularly like each other – the last thing they would want is to become one. By separating out Tuvix into his component parents, Captain Janeway is respecting their choice.

Captain Janeway might also argue that by separating out Tuvix, she’s ending the life of one person, but she’s also saving the lives of two. By keeping Tuvix as is, she’s losing two lives and only preserving one.

Convinced?

I’m not.

I think Captain Janeway made a horrible error, and here’s why …

Neither of the two arguments above works. Why? Consider the parallel case of two parents who have a child, and then die at the time the child is born. To make the case truly parallel, assume that the parents didn’t choose to have the child. Like so many, this pregnancy was both a mistake, and not exactly welcomed by the parents. But the child is born, and although her parents died, her adoptive parents love her dearly. They form a strong bond with the child.

Now, imagine that a few months after the child is born, the pediatric doctor responsible for her welfare discovers a new technology that would allow the parents to be resurrected from the child’s DNA. He can bring them back to life! The only catch is that he’ll need all of the child’s biological material. Cut a long story short, the only way to bring the parents back is to kill the child.

Question: should the doctor chop up the child to bring back its parents?

Surely not!

But notice that the same arguments cited above apply in this case. By not chopping up the child, the doctor is undermining the decisions of the individual parents, as well as their relationships with their respective families and friends. They didn’t choose to die, and they didn’t choose to have the child. And by chopping up the child, the doctor will be saving two lives but only losing one.

Even with these considerations in mind, I assume your answer to the question of whether the doctor should chop up the child is: no! You can’t go chopping up children. It’s unfortunate that her parents died, but so be it. Don’t harm the child.

If that’s the case, then your answer should be similar in the Tuvix case. Tuvix has to be killed to bring back his ‘parents’ too. So, I take it that if you think we shouldn’t chop up the child, we shouldn’t chop up Tuvix either.

Now what do you think? Have you changed your mind? Should we chop up Tuvix?

About the Author

philosophical science fiction review of Star Trek Voyager: Tuvix

Human. Male. From an obscure planet in the Milky Way Galaxy. Sci-fi novelist with a PhD in philosophy. Likes chocolates, Labradors, and zombies (not necessarily in that order). Werbeloff spends his days constructing thought experiments, while trying to muster enough guilt to go to the gym.

He’s the author of the sci-fi thriller trilogy, Defragmenting Daniel, two novels, Hedon and The Solace Pill, and the short story anthology, Obsidian Worlds. His books will make your brain hurt. And you’ll come back for more.

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  • Michael Ferguson

    I think that Janeway was right to separate Tuvix. Chop-Choppy-Chop-Chop! I watched this episode and I felt really bad for Tuvok’s family. I wanted him to return home to his wife and kids as himself. The space cockroach I do not care for.

  • Brian P Lane

    Janeway was correct. Forcing them to stay together is similar to not allowing gay people to get married;

    • Taf Kadd

      What an utterly wrong comparison! Tuvok and Neelix did not even know they were bound together in the first place, whereas gay people certainly do know they are not allowed to get married, so where is the similarity in that? You might as well have compared calling a dog Michael to getting a cat to the vet for an injection…

  • The problem with this & a couple of the other episodes is they have used transporter data to fix past “mistakes”. It would seem, if they found a way to separate the 2 DNA structures they should have been able to recreate without destroying Tuvix. With that said, Tuvix is not a child & we are uncertain of how much life he will have. We can presume a lot but the 2 genetic structures may cause a much shorter lifespan. Which is how in other stories, beyond Star Trek, the separation was forced. I personally liked the Tuvix character & right up until the end I thought it was a way for them to write Ethan Phillips out of the script, but I was watching on a weekly basis when the shows came out.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Good point, DaddyDM. For the dilemma to work, we have to assume that they can’t use the Teleporter data to reconstruct Tuvok and Neelix – they have to split Tuvix to do it. That way, they can’t cop out by keeping Tuvix alive after the split. We also have to assume that Tuvix will have a long, healthy lifespan – at least as long as a either Tuvok or Neelix would have had. (Interestingly, we find out at the end of the series that Tuvok is dying. Presumably, Tuvix may have outlived him, then.)

      I was very impressed that they didn’t take an easy way out. They didn’t give Tuvix a limited lifespan. The writers forced Janeway to make a tough decision.

      • Manabi

        Star Trek’s best episodes are the ones like this that have no clear-cut answers. It makes you think a LOT, and really shows you ethics in a new light. I also liked this episode because it shows that in the Star Trek universe people who opt to go into leadership positions (like becoming captain) have to deal with deep moral and ethical issues. Ultimately the decision is hers, and she has to live with it. And this isn’t the type of decision anyone would find easy to live with, no matter which way you decide. I loved the fact that Janeway was such a scientist but also firmly in command and willing an able to make those tough ethical decisions.

        Deep Space Nine had a lot of episodes like this. Cisco really had to wrestle with a lot of unpleasant decisions over the course of the show. You might want to give it a try next.

        • Jason Werbeloff

          Thank you for recommending DS9, Manabi. So far I’ve watched the first 3 episodes, and I’m skeptical about the acting. But you’ve convinced me to plough through a few more episodes and give it a shot.

  • Barry Southwood

    I hate those kinds of questions! That’s why bringing back alien lifeforms is strictly forbidden when I let anyone use my teleporter! Unless they do it as a separate “beaming.”

  • Taf Kadd

    Of course Janeway was correct and of course we would not and should not chop up that hypothetical child. For the simple reason that the parents did actually chose to have the child or the would have opted for an abortion! Q.E.D. 🙂

    • Jason Werbeloff

      I could avoid that objection by modifying the case, so that the parents of the child, for some reason, could not abort. Perhaps the father died shortly after conception, and the mother fell into a coma just after she fell pregnant.

      But even without this change, I think the parallel remains – just because the parents didn’t want the child, doesn’t mean they had to abort. It seems consistent for them to both regret the pregnancy, and go ahead anyway. I think many people do this.

      • Taf Kadd

        You are right, of course, their regretting the pregnancy does not mean they would have had to abort. But the fact they did not abort, means that they did choose to have the child, if only unconsciously.

        And speaking of modifying the case: What if the illness Tuvok is dying of would have killed Tuvix even faster as a result of the DNA muddling plant? That would give us another reason to separate them again…

  • Mark Bradshaw

    Janeway was wrong. It would’ve been morally wrong to combine the two into a single person against their will. It is equally wrong to split apart Tuvix against his will. The original combining happened by accident, with no moral implications, but the separation is due to an intentional choice, and has moral considerations. While the death of the original two may be regrettable, that does not validate knowingly harming Tuvix to correct an accident.

    • Taf Kadd

      Ah, the age old question: What is morally right and what not? And who should define the fine line between? And at what point in time? You say it was morally wrong to take them apart again, but that is your own point of view in your own point in time and space. Who are you to judge? How do you think you would have judged a hundred years ago? Or how would you judge a thousand years hence and in another galaxy to boot? And what if YOU had been either Tuvok or Neelix, would you still think it morally wrong? “Let him who is without fault, pass the first judgement” to paraphrase a wee bit… 🙂

      • Jason Werbeloff

        Taf, if I understand your point correctly, you’re adopting what philosophers call “Cultural Relativism” or “Moral Relativism”. This is the view that morality is determined by, or relative to, an agent’s culture. What’s right in culture A isn’t the same as what’s right in culture B. And there’s no objective way to tell which culture is correct.

        I’m skeptical about this view – personally I do think there are objective moral truths, and that we can debate morality, and form arguments for or against a moral position. But this is a philosophical hotbed, and there’s lots of room for debate. Some of my best friends are Cultural Relativists! If you’re interested, here’s a summary of the arguments for and against Cultural Relativism in the literature: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-relativism/

  • Anonymous

    Janeway was right. It was a tough decision, but had to be made. My analogy is with conjoined twins.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Interesting analogy!

      But I’m not convinced. In the case of conjoined twins, the twins have a very poor quality of life unless they’re separated. But Tuvix has an excellent quality of life. Also, Tuvix is a single unique individual, whereas the twins are two people, even though they’re physically joined?

  • Kerry Amburgy-Dickson

    No, I don’t think she should have separated them. Both Neelix and Tuvok knew the risks before they joined the crew. And death most certainly was one of those risks. Since at the time of this episode, Voyager had not (if I recall correctly) regained contact with the Alpha Quadrant, Tuvok’s family would have already assumed he was dead. They are Vulcans and historically when ships disappeared in the Federation, they were rarely found again with an intact crew, so logic would dictate that Tuvok returning would be highly improbable. As for Kess’s opinion, honestly it should have had no bearing on the course of action. Relationships break up all the time. She was not his wife and thus had no legal ground to make such a decision on Neelix’s behalf. The ONLY one who opinion should have mattered on this decision should have been Tuvix as it was a matter of his bodily integrity.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      All excellent points, Kerry. I agree with you, but playing devil’s advocate for a moment here…
      Couldn’t Janeway argue that even though Tuvok’s family don’t know he’s alive, it’s still valuable and important to return him to them if it’s within her power to do so?

  • Kay Smillie

    Tuvix was murdered. Janeway was a killer IMHO. Don’t give me ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one’ (Spock) in this instance…

    Tuvix did not want to be destroyed. Tuvix was an amalgamation of Tuvok and Neelix, and as such Tuvix made decisions guided by both of them. THEIR decision was for Tuvix to live on. Janeway ignored his informed moral decision and knowingly killed him against his wishes.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Yes! Couldn’t have said it better,

      I wanted to go into this in the article – that Neelix and Tuvok continue through Tuvix. Tuvix retains their goals and desires, so his decisions are, in an important sense, their decisions. But this does open up a can of worms – it assumes that identity is psychological, rather than physical.

  • Scott Paeth

    It’s an interesting argument, but I’m not convinced. A key problem is that I’m not convinced that Tuvix, despite his protestations, is an individual entity. He’s an amalgam, but as such is wholly dependent for his identity on the prior distinct identities of the others. I don’t think the baby splitting analogy works, but I’d need to mull it a bit more to decide why it doesn’t.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Excellent point. Here’s one possible response…

      Isn’t the child also an amalgam? Her existence is also wholly dependent on her parents’ prior existence?

      • Anonymous

        That doesn’t make the child an amalgam. The child is a wholly new being. It is not a valid comparison.

        • Jason Werbeloff

          I’m not sure what makes someone an amalgam vs not an amalgam? The child has both sets of her parents’ DNA, with her own own quirks. Tuvix too has both sets of his parents’ DNA, and his own quirks – like the child, he’s got qualities that neither of his parents has. Like the child, he’s more than the sum of his parts.

  • Paulo Costa

    Janeway was wrong. What happened to Tuvok and Neelix was nobody’s fault, just an unfortunate accident that ended their lives but also created a new one. Tuvix became an individual, a separate being of his own. If Janeway intended to split him up into Tuvok and Neelix at the first opportunity, then she should not have allowed him to become part of the crew. She could have put him on stasis or something. Instead, she chose to let him not only live but also benefit the ship’s community through his labour and good will –, only to trade his life for the lives of two people who, for all intents and purposes, had been dead for months. Janeway was misguided by her sense of duty and her own attachments to a lifelong friend. She may have meant well, but what she did was most definitely wrong!

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Agreed, Paulo! It was a particularly vicious thing of her to do, put that way.

  • bn100

    yes

  • Ed Thompson

    Jason – The issue I am having to resolve between the storyline in the Voyager episode and your analogy about the parents dying is that in the Star Trek episode, Tuvok and Neelix HAD TO combine in order for Tuvix to come into existence. In your analogy, the parents dying is just a really bad coincidence that had no direct correlation to the child being born. What I mean by that is that is that there is no realistic situation where both a mother and father would have to die in order for the child to be born. The mother, sure. But not mother and father.
    That they both died is sad. But their death was not the cause of the child’s birth. So while not wanting the child to die in order for mom and dad to come back to life is not at odds to me with the fact that Tuvok and Neelix are directly involved in the creation of Tuvix without their choice.

    So I wish for Tuvok and Neelix to be separated AND I want the child to live.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Ed, that’s a superb objection. I’m going to try two possible responses.

      I could refine the case so that the parents did *have to* die for the child to live. We can imagine the scene – Dad takes a bullet for Mom. Mom has a condition that ensures her death if she has the child, and is in a coma from one of the bullets Dad failed to stop. She has the child, and dies …

      The other response is to bite the bullet (apologies for the pun). Why is it important in Janeway’s decision whether Neelix and Tuvok *had to* die in order to bring about Tuvix? Wouldn’t she have the same decision to make if the transporter produced three people: Tuvix, Neelix and Tuvix; but then Tuvok and Neelix die shortly afterwards due to unrelated circumstances? Suppose a bulkhead falls on their heads seconds after transport, but narrowly misses Tuvix. Now Janeway has the same decision to make.

      • garry

        geesh. you won’t let anyone off easy, eh? that’s all i got.

        • Jason Werbeloff

          Haha. That’s my job as a philosopher. But, secretly, I think Ed may have convinced me to change my mind.

          • Ed Thompson

            Wow. I am honored to receive such a comment. My wife always tells me I overthink everything. I guess it is finally paying off. 😉

  • Cory Engel

    It’s been a long time since I saw this episode, but there’s another practical consideration for Janeway: she needed the skills of both her crewmen. This wasn’t an argument given in the episode as I recall, and I don’t think it’s a valid argument for taking a life (though I don’t concede that the reversion indeed constitutes taking a life), but in Voyager’s desperate situation, this might have been on the captain’s mind as one consideration of many.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Sure. yes. They needed all hands. But as you say, what an awful reason for taking a man’s life (if that’s what it was, which I think it was). We can imagine a situation where the Doctor develops a way to split ALL the crew members into their parents’ DNA. That would double the crew. Should she do it?

      • Cory Engel

        Just eliminated the “necessary crew” theory. In the episode “The 37’s” (i.e. The one with Amelia Earhart”), Voyager encounters a planet colonized by humans descended from alien abductees. The crew is given the option to stay and make a life in the planet instead of a long risky voyage to Earth. Janeway and Chakotay discuss how many crew members are needed to operate the ship, and Chakotay remarks that it could operate with a crew of 100 (a 1/3 reduction). So it’s unlikely that a net reduction of one is going to make any difference to Janeway’s decision.

  • C C

    …and Joshu answered “Mu. The question is not rightly put.”
    I know it’s horribly utilitarian of me, but we are talking about a single ship, lost (if I remember correctly) in the Delta Quadrant. The Captain’s first priority is the wellbeing of the ship and crew. Whichever option fosters that best is the correct choice.
    (BTW the first line is in answer to the koan, ‘Where does the fire go when it goes out?’)
    PS: It was a joke line in the movie “Ffolkes” — “Both my parents died in childbirth. “

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Love the koan!

      On purely Utilitarian grounds, there might still be a case to be made for keeping Tuvix alive. For one, he’s a better chef and security chief than Neelix and Tuvok were. Also, we might argue that he is in an important sense the continuation of both of them. So by keeping him alive, we’re not losing anyone – actually all three continue. But by killing him, one is lost and only two survive.

  • C C

    Yes, but can Tuvix cook during a security emergency?

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Hahaha! Point taken, C C.

  • Pineas

    As someone who has invented himself more than once I am with Tuvix.

    Btw. it would have been an interesting possibility to get rid off an actor/character or re-invent. it.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Agreed. A very clever way to write out a character/actor at the last moment. It would have been really gutsy had they done it. I think it would be more likely to happen today – we no longer want series that “reset” the status quo each episode.

  • LOL I read through every last one of the comments before deciding to make one myself. First off, I barely even remember that episode! It’s so funny, but I can’t really say much. I barely remember but I can say this, Tuvix is the man in the kitchen! lol

  • Katrin

    Absolutely separating them. It wasn’t their choice to be joined and their agency imo outweighs the interest of the new, joined person.

  • susan beamon

    Janeway was correct. The comparison of the child to Tuvix is incorrect. A child is a combination of one half of each parent’s DNA. Tuvix is a combination of all of each “parent’s” DNA. If the idea that taking a child apart could produce the parents in total is real, than you must also conclude that all children of two parents are identical, something we know is not true.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Interesting objection, Susan. I’m not a biologist or a doctor, so I’m not sure whether you’re right about a child only inheriting half of each parent’s DNA. So first off, I’d doubt that. But second, if that is correct, then I’m not sure why you think that Tuvix didn’t also only inherit half of each of each of his parent’s DNA. After all, if he inherited all of the DNA of both parents, then his body would be ‘over-determined’ – there’d be too much DNA responsible for his body.

      • Gnondpom

        First I must admit that I don’t know anything about Star Trek. But I do know something about biology.

        Yes, children definitely inherit only half the DNA of each one of their parents (otherwise each generation would be getting twice the amount of chromosomes!). And the half is randomly determined, hence the differences between siblings – some of the genes will be shared and some won’t.

        If Tuvix only inherited half of the DNA of his ‘parents’, how could both parents be re-created only from half of their DNA? But on the other hand, he couldn’t live with too much DNA either, so it seems to be something that is biologically impossible anyway.

        Unless such a combination didn’t rely on standard human biology rules – which would be entirely possible since we’re not talking about humans anyway! But in this case, pretty much anything would be possible, and I would personally have preferred a solution where they waited until they found a technical way of duplicating Tuvix’s DNA, so that they could at the same time recreate his ‘parents’ and keep him alive – a win-win situation!

        • Jason Werbeloff

          Céline, thank you for clarifying that regarding the DNA splitting. As you say, this does cast doubt regarding whether the Tuvix episode was actually coherent. We’ll have to assume they can recreate the other half of the DNA somehow from the halves inside him. And I agree – they should have found a way to keep him alive if they were to do anything at all to him.

  • Tim

    I guess I don’t agree with your parallel. If the parents had sex, they knew that pregnancy was a distinct possibility. Stepping onto a transporter in the Star Trek universe isn’t the same thing. This literally never happened before. The parallel would have to be, 2 people held hands and magically got pregnant in a way that no one ever has before. With your parallel you are talking about two individuals who know that sex leads to babies, but, like many irresponsible people in this world, just don’t like the outcome.

    Then there’s the difference between procreation and genetic mutation. Procreation brings life about slowly. Pregnancy takes 9 months while the baby grows. It’s certainly a living human being while in the womb so it exists at the same time as both parents. Its life hasn’t destroyed the life of its parents. Now maybe the delivery of the child will kill the mother (not sure why the father dies, but whatever), but that’s different. Your parallel would have to include Tuvok, Neelix, and Tuvix all arriving on the transporter, but Tuvix is stuck in a suspended state or something. When they bring him out of that state, months later, Tuvok and Neelix die (don’t ‘disappear’ or ‘cease to exist’, but bodies fall down and die). Now, Janeway has to decide whether to actually murder Tuvix to somehow bring back the other two. She would choose differently I believe. Can you see how you’ve made a false parallel?

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Tim, great objections. I’ll try respond to each of them.

      I think you’re drawing the (dis)analogy in the wrong place. Neither the parents, nor Neelix and Tuvox, know that they’re going to die in the near future. And none of them knows that this procedure could be used to resurrect them. In both cases, there’s no choice made about whether they want to be resurrected because they die before the choice has to be made. I think the correct analogy for the pregnancy would be to the transport. The parents know that when they have sex, pregnancy might happen. And when Neelix and Tuvok say, “Two to beam up,” they know they’re likely to be transported. I don’t see how drawing the (dis)analogy differently is relevant to the conclusion I’m trying to draw?

      Your second objection is more convincing to me. Question: would Janeway actually make a different decision in your revised Tuvix case? I’m not certain. My intuitions on this are cloudy. Why do you think she would decide differently?

      • Tim

        I think she would choose differently because Tuvoc and Neelix would have truly died. In the episode, I don’t know that you could say they were dead, just transformed into what was now a new ‘person’. Had they died, and had this new life been created not literally from them but ‘out of them’ (as a child is), I think the scenario is much different. It’s been a long while since I saw the episode so I’m a little fuzzy on some of the philosophical points presented.

        • Jason Werbeloff

          Ah, but if Tuvok and Neelix aren’t dead, then why kill someone to bring them back? I agree with you that they’ve been transformed, rather than killed, by the accident. But if you agree with that, then surely you would agree that Tuvix, who really will die when he’s separated, shouldn’t be killed to ‘resurrect’ people who aren’t really dead?

  • Sam

    I think it was wrong to separate Tuvix, as he was alive at the time. There was no absolute guarantee that Neelix and Tuvok would come back. She killed Tuvix, it’s not right to kill anyone, even if it brings back two people.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Sam, we’re in agreement here. When Janeway obliterates Tuvix, he’s crying for mercy. Begging. It’s awful. So much so that the Doctor refuses to perform the procedure, and Janeway has to step in and do it. It’s horrific.

  • Crystal Blackburn

    Chop, chop. Separate them. They didn’t choose to become one.

  • Sarah

    Saw Tuvix and I was hoping it would be about Voyager. I loved this episode. (i’ve read that viewers generally hate this episode but its a good dilemma.) I can’t say Janeway made the right or wrong choice. It hurt either way. Tuvix begging to live hurt but I’d miss Tuvok and neelix. Did they ask how they felt about it in the end? I don’t think Tuvok would be agreed with her decision (though he would still be grateful or the Vulcan equivalent to be alive.)

    And I’m glad you gave Voyager a chance! Many people don’t appreciate it but it’s my favorite star trek series. M

    • Jason Werbeloff

      I love Voyager too. Since then we’ve tried watching Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, but they’re not as good. I feel such a sense of loss now that it’s over. Some TV series give you the undeniable longing to take an amnesia pill so you can watch it all over again.

  • Q

    It depends. I haven’t seen the episode. Were Tuvok and Neelix aware while Tuvix was a thing or were they in effect “sleeping”? If they “were not there” then you could think of them as dead. while Tuvix lives on as his own person.

    Also as someone above me said, Neelix and Tuvok knew the risks when joining the crew.

    Janeway was wrong, but then, Janeway was often wrong.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Q, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. This is really the crux of the problem – do Neelix and Tuvok ‘continue’ or ‘survive’ through Tuvix? I think they do, and Tuvix suggests that they do. He says he has all their thoughts, desires, hopes, dreams, memories, etc. And, to me, that’s exactly what identity is – it’s your psychological profile/states. And if they do continue through Neelix, then there’s not enough reason to ‘resurrect’ them by killing Tuvix, because they’re still alive. Tuvix does not continue through them after he’s separated, though – so he really is killed by the separation.

  • Pam E

    I’m swayed by Susan’s argument. If Tuvix is created only using half of each ‘parent’s’ DNA, there should have been Neelok to use the other halves, otherwise where did that DNA go? Plus how would they reverse it if they only had half the DNA from Tuvok and Neelix? Therefore it stands to reason that Tuvix had two entire sets of DNA, which would make it likely that something would go very wrong inside him before too long. Saying that, I wouldn’t want to have to make a decision like that.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Pam, this is a good point. One way round this would be that maybe the other half of their DNA could be reconstructed from the first half? Matching base pairs, or something sci-fiy like that. But I just don’t know enough about DNA to say for sure. This is the sort of problem that might make the episode incoherent – for the episode to work, we have to assume that there’s enough DNA to reconstruct both, but not so much that it causes problems with Tuvix’s body.

      This is getting really complicated now, and I’m not sure whether or not it’s a problem for my analogy with the child. My gut is it’s not a problem, but my brain is starting to do cartwheels working it out.

  • Virginia Horton

    I think that Janeway was right

  • Aaron Perez

    You mention that the crew/adoptive parents take a liking to the offspring and somehow this is part of the equation. Would it change anything if the offspring were to be separated from others (I’ll avoid the cruelty that this would be for the offspring) or if the offspring were somehow not endearing to the crew/family?

    I don’t think the offspring’s likability has any bearing on this situation. While it’s a tragedy either way and would be a tough decision to make, as a military leader you don’t always have the luxury of morals. As in Voyager they can’t just call in for a replacement for the chef or security officer, leaving the offspring alive creates a resource shortage. As callous as that sounds, being the captain of a ragtag group trying to get home in a hostile sector of space I think I’d do what Janeway did. Heck, even just being here on Earth I still think I’d choose the same.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Aaron, well spotted. You’re right that I’m trying to curry favor for my preferred outcome by citing Tuvix’s likability. Sure, this should have no bearing on the outcome. But it does illustrate something important – that Tuvix was a unique individual with his own value (distinct from the value of either of his parents).

      As you’ve pointed out, there are two distinct questions here. What’s the moral thing to do in this case, and what’s the best strategic/military decision? Those two questions have the same outcome if you’re a Utilitarian, but may have different outcomes if you adopt a different moral position (like Kantianism).

  • Liz

    I read the comments before posting and my arguments have already been posted by others. 1) the issues regarding your analogy with a baby and parents; Ed stated my argument on that very well; 2) the needs of the ship and the crew to survive in the Delta quadrant. I considered Tuvok and the Vulcan philosophy of the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few OR THE ONE – the Voyager crews’ needs would have been the many, Tuvok and Neelix would have been the few, and Tuvik would have been the one; ; and 3) the DNA of a child vs. Tuvik. I will add that in watching this episode (and as a long time Trek fan) my understanding was that Tuvik was a complete combination of Tuvok and Neelix’s DNA. While not possible in human procreation, it is science fiction set in the future with weird plants. To say it can’t be done, we might as well say plants can’t have that affect on human biology.. We also do not know exactly what Vulcan DNA is. We do know it requires medical intervention for a human and vulcan to have a child and vulcan blood is green.

    Question – would your conclusion be the same if the DNA combination had resulted in a person that exhibited the dark sides of Tuvok and Neelix and the crew had disliked him?

    I am happy you enjoyed Voyager. It is my favorite. TOS did it first; Voyager did it best. STNG annoys me most of the time. DS9 I only appreciated after it was over and I binge rewatched it. I always felt the point of Voyager was that Janeway was not always right because reality is that right and wrong are not simple and gray areas are more extensive than we acknowledge. Janeway did the best she could with what she had and what she knew at the time.

    Tuvik episode was well done. Examining moral and ethical issues is what science fiction does so well.

    • Liz

      Dang, I spelled Tuvix wrong each time. At least I was consistent.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Hi Liz. Yes, I think you’ve summarized the objections to my argument well. They’re all strong objections, and I’m teetering on changing my mind about my conclusion. But I’m not quite there yet. I do think there are decent responses to each of the objections.

      Good question regarding his likability. Aaron asked a similar question above. I’d like to think as a philosopher it wouldn’t have altered my conclusion, but as a human being it might have. Secretly, I’m a Utilitarian, and I do think that unlikable people often have lower utility value.

      Thank you for pushing me to keep going with DS9. I’ve only watched the first 3 episodes, and didn’t like the acting. But I’m going to persevere now on your and Manabi’s suggestion.

  • Lee Todd

    No…she should have respected the new entity’s wishes

  • Charmaine

    I think there’s a flaw with your kind of reasoning, Jason. (Geez, would never have had the guts to say that to my real philosophy prof). It’s almost like a slippery slope argument – if we can do this, then we should be ok with doing this + this.
    We need to be more disciplined and stick to the context – in this, the Star Trek episode, the problem can be reversed, and should be. On a purely practical and ethical basis, our primary responsibility is towards the two original individuals. If it were irreversible, that would be the end of it, we’d just say ‘oops’ and get on with it, but it’s not.
    Of course it’s fun and instructive to consider the implications, but in the end, I think we shouldn’t be swayed by the fact that Tuvix is a good guy and everyone likes him, and he’s an asset. (And better looking, now.)

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Hahaha, if you get to know philosophers, you realize they love good criticism. And I think your objection is really interesting.

      So you’re quite right that we shouldn’t employ any slippery slopes in our arguments. But I’m not convinced that I’m doing that here. Slippery slope fallacies involve arguments of the form
      P1: Doing A involves doing X to n degree.
      P2: Doing B involves doing X to n+1 degree.
      P3: Doing X to n+1 degree is wrong.
      Conclusion: Doing A is wrong.

      Question: am I doing this here? I don’t think so, because I think that the child case (B) doesn’t involve a greater degree of anything (X) relevant to the case than we’re doing in the Tuvix example (A). In both cases, we’re chopping up one person to save two. I don’t see chopping up children as any more choppy than chopping up Tuvix.

  • Raesun

    First: ‘Do No Harm’. Out of date and clichéd. The doctor should have nodded, smiled and said what a beautiful result and left well alone. A new identity, psychological or not, is the result of a quirk of events. (That’s what happens messing with aliens, plants or otherwise.) Are we muddling the all too human with the reality of life outside the Milky Way where Mr. & Mrs. Snuggle up with the dogs and bars and bars of chocolate. Mr. should really get back to gym. Some of those chocolates may be GM’d
    Conjoined twin’s separation often result in the death of one of them. Tuvok and Neelix work well as Tuvix. Don’t mess with what works
    Personally I prefer Tuvok’s looks.

  • Mary Preston

    No matter what I decide I have no doubt it’s the wrong decision.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      So interesting, Mary! Currently the poll is split 56%/44% in favor of Janeway’s decision. And almost all of the people commenting are absolutely certain that they’re right.

      • Taf Kadd

        I wasn’t going to comment again, because basically the whole discussion is futile, but now I just have to.
        Of course everybody thinks they are right, because they are!
        Even Mary, who thinks anything she does might be wrong, is right. 😉
        There is no such thing as “right”, because as long as there are more than one person in one room, there will always be more than one “reality” in that room and therefore more than one “right”, however minutely different…

        • Anonymous

          It is not about whether I am right or wrong. The question is did Janeway make the right decision. As a captain her responsibility is to the Federation and her crew. Tuvok was a member of her crew. Neelix became a member. Legally does she have the responsibility of protecting them and especially Tuvok as a federation citizen? We have approached it as a moral decision but what affect does her federation oath have on her decision?

          • Jason Werbeloff

            This is a fascinating question, which I didn’t consider. Agreed – Janeway has no legal responsibility toward Tuvix, since he’s not a citizen, but she does toward Tuvok. From that perspective, it seems that she is legally required to favor Tuvok’s well-being, by splitting Tuvix.

            BUT, here’s the problem. A dilemma arises depending on whether or not you see Tuvok as alive at the time Tuvix is around. If Tuvok is currently alive (i.e. surviving in some sense through Tuvix), then Janeway has no obligation to resuscitate a man whose not actually dead. On the other hand, if he’s dead, then it seems like she has no obligation to him either, since it seems odd to have obligations toward dead people?

            You could argue that he’s currently alive, and his well-being would be increased if he’s separated from Neelix, but I’m not convinced that his well-being would be improved. The show suggests that Tuvix is able to overcome Tuvok’s shortcomings (his social awkwardness an inability to relax). Maybe Tuvok is better off as Tuvix?

          • Liz

            My prior comment showed up as anonymous. You raised the issue of Tuvok being alive and not needing to be resuscitated or if dead than not being obligated to resurrect him. I don’t see Neelix or Tuvok as dead; I would compare it more to them being in a coma with Janeway making the decision of whether to perform a risky surgery that might save them.

            I started a new comment at the end of the thread since I rewatched the episode and had new points to make.

  • I think it would have been more interesting had Janeway not separated the two. Really fun story opportunities in not doing that.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Agreed, Rachel. While I was watching the episode, I was hopeful this is what they would do. It would have revitalized the characters.

  • Juliann Grenier

    Captain Janeway should not separate Tuvix into Tuvok and Neelix. They’ve been Tuvix for a few months already now, so even if they were separated, who is to say they’d be the same? They’re technically already dead, so I say just leave Tuvix as he is.

  • JVF

    Okay, so I voted to separate them. But to paraphrase Timber Hawkeye, the opposite of what I know is also true. There is no universally right or wrong answer to this question so whereas I might (or might not for that matter) be able to explain why I voted the way I did, I don’t really have any reason to argue that I am absolutely correct.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Very tough to give a clean answer either way. Sartre would have agreed with you. He thought that there are true moral dilemmas – choices that just don’t have a right decision.

  • Hard people making hard choices. Bleah.

    I understand the need for drama in an episode, but here it wasn’t needed. Transporters have been shown to have the ability (albeit with great difficulty) to duplicate a person.

    Step one: Duplicate Tuvix. Step two: The second Tuvix is split back into the original Tuvok and Neelix. Step three – oh, wait. No need for a step three. Tuvok, Neelix and Tuvix are now all alive. Problem solved. Janeway can head back to her cabin and get blitzed on replicated alcohol and coffee. Hurrah, technology.

    • Anonymous

      There have been episodes where the transporter split people pr made a copy. I dont think that was deemed to be possible on demand. There were outside factors that caused it. Two Rikers. A good and bad Kirk. I don’t believe doing so and having it all was an option. I dont recall of ot was stated in the episode but I suspect ot was as I can’t imagine the Doctor, Janeway, Tuvix, all failing to explore that option.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      This is certainly a problem for the coherence of the case, if clones are so easily created. We’d have to buy into something like Anonymous’s position – cloning isn’t doable on demand – or we could say that this case is special in that it disallows cloning. The alien plant DNA infused in Tuvix’s body prevents cloning, maybe.

  • I seem to have missed this whole story line, perhaps a re-watch is in order.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      It’s definitely worth watching.

  • Christian

    Great question, great debate. I’m personally in favor of letting the situation evolve as it is, and not force a return to the past. Tuvix was happy with the situation, and that’s what matters in my eyes.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Thanks, Christian. Agreed.

  • Liz

    I re-watched the episode this morning. First, a correction as to your initial statement of the episode. It was only 2 weeks when the doctor proposed the isotope “cure”. I wonder does how long Tuvix existed make a difference? I have no idea where the cutoff point would be, but if it had been a year instead of 2 to 3 weeks, I would be less sure of Janeway’s decision being correct.

    In regards to your initial premise and analogy –
    First, the doctor does say that Neelix, Tuvok, and the plants down to the molecular level had merged. Second, Tuvix presented that the transporter accident was the result of symbiogenesis reproduction. Taking your analogy of parents having a child, in this case, the orchid raped them for the purpose of reproduction. Does that change your comparison or affect your conclusion?

    Tuvix asked Kes to speak to the captain on his behalf. Kes told Janeway she couldn’t speak for him because she wanted Neelix back. Tuvix appealed to Chakotay and Tom Paris. The relationships Tuvik has created did not result in any of them responding to his entreaties. In watching the scene on the bridge when Janeway has made her decision, Tuvix’s actions made me like him less. My immediate reaction while watching was that he is not a Starfleet officer. As Kirk stated, “how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.”

    This episode is a Kobayashi Maru. The universe presented a situation in which Janeway’s knowledge, experience, morals, and ethics were inadequate and the only choice was what was the least wrong and to make that decision.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Thank you for clarifying the episode, Liz. The two weeks vs two months difference is important, or might be. The longer he went on as Tuvix, the less inclined we’d be to split him, I think. It would be interesting to see just where the tipping point is. I imagine that if Tuvix lived as a member of the crew for years, say, we’d be more certain that we shouldn’t split him.

      I’m not convinced I would call it ‘rape’ on the part of the orchid, since rape requires intentionality, and plant-life lacks intentionality of that sort. (I’m using ‘intentionality’ here in the philosophical sense of possessing desires and beliefs). Without the sort of intentionality, I still see it as an accident. So that wouldn’t impact my conclusion.

      Good point regarding the bridge crew ignoring Tuvix’s entreaties. If I remember correctly, though, the Doctor refuses to perform the procedure, and Janeway does it instead. Which is telling, I think.

      I like your analysis of the episode as a test of Janeway’s character. This test pops up in different ways multiple times during the course of the series – how much weight does she place in getting home vs the crew’s well-being? Many of the comments on the blog pointed this out – that Janeway was ultimately doing what she thought would best increase the chances of getting home.

      • Liz

        The doctor was an emergency medical holigram. He grew as a self aware entity. Since this episode was season 2; I am no so sure he would have made the same objection further on in the series. If Seven had been co-mingled with another crewperson, I expect he would have separated them in a second as he fell in love with her. So, the doctor being the only one to actually voice objections doesn’t really affect my perceptions.

  • Marty B

    The question in my mind is this: do Neelix and Tuvok retain their memories of Tuvix once they are returned to their original components? Not having seen this, I’m assuming Tuvix contains the memories of the originals. Which would make it logical that the two would retain memories after the split.
    If so, then splitting Tuvix only enriches the lives of Neelix and Tuvok.
    I do think, as above, that two weeks as Tuvik makes it easier to split him back to the original components.
    The whole dead parents/child thing goes out the window, though, because the child has yet to form a coherent brain, and cannot contain the brain patterns of the two parents, even combined, because there is too much brain growth that has not occurred.
    As far as Tuvix only having half of each “parent’s” DNA, since they were combined with the plant, the plant can be presumed to be managing the double DNA dilemma.
    And there is no speculation as to the future of Tuvix and the plant. Suppose the plant decides to go around combining other people? Given this unknown, Janeway was right.

  • Liz

    Jason,

    What was the final vote on Tuvik? And, did you change your mind?

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Hi Liz,

      So, the poll results are currently sitting at 53% to separate Tuvix, and 47% against separating him. Such a close result! Much closer than I expected.

      I did in fact change my mind, sort of. Ultimately, the reason why I thought that Tuvix should not be separated is that I think that even though Tuvix is distinct from either of his parents, both Neelix and Tuvix do continue, or survive, through Tuvix – since he shares their memories and psychological profiles. So if you kill Tuvix, you lose a person and keep two. But if you keep Tuvix, you keep 3 persons. Seems like a good reason to keep him alive.

      BUT, a friend and fellow philosopher, Eron Fasser, pointed out to me that we might alter the thought experiment to involve more than two parents. Suppose 10 people were beamed up and merged into one person. Or 20 people. Or 1000. Surely then we would think that not chopping up the merged person would be a travesty. Even if the 1000 parents do continue in the merged person in some sense, each is drastically diluted. So much so, that their continuation is minimal, if at all.

      So, in the original case, I would probably still keep Tuvix alive, since the dilution is minimal. But in cases with more parents, I would separate Tuvix.

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