If you wanted to criticize Star Trek, you might talk about their sloppy “science,” their socialism-without-side-effects mentality, or their too-easily-resolved-in-the-last-few-minutes plot setups. If I were to criticize Star Trek, it would be their cursory “resolutions” of complex problems. This is especially dissatisfactory when those problems are social, not personal, in nature.
Take, for example, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?” Over the course of this episode, it’s revealed that one of the primary characters in the series was genetically engineered. Apparently, when Dr. Bashir was in the first grade his parents realized that he was developmentally delayed. Instead of giving him time to learn at his own pace or implementing medical and/or educational interventions (consistent with the nature of his developmental delays), they took a “short-cut” by taking him somewhere to perform illegal genetic modifications. Essentially, they re-wrote his DNA to make him smarter, more physically attractive, and more athletically capable.
Most of the episode revolved around the legal implications of Bashir’s parents’ choice to genetically modify their son now that he did have a medical license, seeing as he was a decorated member of Starfleet. You see, Starfleet did not allow genetically modified persons to be in Starfleet and the Federation did not allow them to practice medicine. These restrictions were, presumably, in place to further discourage the use of genetic modification to enhance children.
The climax of the episode revolved around how the characters got around these restrictions so that Dr. Bashir could continue as one of the primary characters of the show. In the climax, a judicial figure of Starfleet revealed that the reason the Federation had implemented these legal restrictions had to do with a point in history called the “Eugenics Wars.” Essentially, they didn’t (strongly) object when someone like Dr. Bashir was created, but they restricted this form of genetic modification to prevent the creation of the overly-ambitious, overly-power-hungry supervillains created during the “Eugenics Wars.”
The only nod—bare minimum nod that it was—to the ethics of a parent manipulating a child’s genetic makeup to make the child more acceptable to the parent occurred when Dr. Bashir accused his parents of being ashamed of him. They, of course, claimed that they did it out of love because it is oh-so-very-hard to watch your child struggle with developmental delays. The deeper implications of their decision were never addressed.
Here are a few of the assumptions the creators of this episode left intact:
- An exceptionally bright, athletic, and beautiful child is SUPERIOR to a child with developmental disabilities.
- A person with developmental disabilities does not have the RIGHT to exist if science can eliminate their disabilities.
- The GOVERNMENT has the authority to decide when it is and is not acceptable for outsiders to give the body/life of one person to a “better” version of that person.
For all that the Federation is supposed to be some sort of paragon of personal liberties, freedom, and good will towards men, I must say that Director David Livingston, teleplay writer Ronald D. Moore, and story writer Jimmy Diggs failed to live up to that example in their storytelling. They used the word “eugenics,” but it seems apparent to me that they did not understand the real history of eugenics. Eugenics was never really about making a “superior” human being, because we never really knew how to do that. Eugenics was about eliminating the “inferior” human beings from the gene pool under the assumption that we could breed out “defects.” With this understanding of the real history of eugenics in mind, “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?” actually serves to reinforce the idea of eugenics!
The reason eugenics is evil is not because we might, purposely or accidentally, make our species more violent, more greedy, or more power hungry. The reason eugenics is evil is because it is the utmost arrogance to believe that we have the wisdom, knowledge, and heart to decide who should be allowed to flourish and who should be eliminated. The creators of this episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine created a story in which they supported the creation of “better” human race by ignoring the evil inflicted on the child Dr. Bashir used to be.