Ethics of Trek: Should Janeway Have Saved Tuvix?

The Episode: ‘Tuvix’ – Voyager, Season 2, Episode 24

The Dilemma: The USS Voyager is stranded in a remote region of space.  During a freak transporter accident, the ship’s tactical officer (Lieutenant Commander Tuvok) and their local guide (Neelix) are converted into a single being. Calling himself Tuvix, this being shares the memories of both Neelix and Tuvok, and is fully sentient and healthy. After several days – during which Tuvix bonds with the crew – Voyager‘s commanding officer (Captain Kathryn Janeway) discovers a way to restore Neelix and Tuvok to life, but doing so will result in the death of Tuvix.

Disclaimers: Star Trek is full of ways in which the transporter can malfunction. If it’s not creating a duplicate of the passenger, it’s sending them to an evil alternate universe. Some of these other malfunctions present possible means for Janeway to both restore her missing crew to life while also saving Tuvix. However, these proposals miss the point of the episode in question. For the sake of this article, I am using the episode’s assumption that this is a unique accident that cannot be neatly solved. Additionally, though it is also hybridised within Tuvix, the rights of the orchid will not be taken into consideration.

Put yourself in Janeway’s position. As a Starfleet captain, she is sworn to respect all life, no matter how strange it may seem. There can be little arguing that Tuvix is alive. He is a sentient being like every other member of Voyager‘s crew. It is also clear that he is no threat to the crew or the ship. For all intents and purposes, Tuvix is a fresh and willing recruit to the cause of getting Voyager home. At least for the duration of the episode. the question lingers that he might one day choose a different path, but if his work ethic is to be believed, then he has the potential to be one of Janeway’s most efficient crewmembers. He is capable of doing the jobs of both Tuvok and Neelix, and also quickly makes friends with the other members of the Voyager crew.

However, Janeway is not only sworn to exploration and understanding. She also has a duty of care to her crew. While it can be expected that a Starfleet officer (or volunteer, in Neelix’s case) will be ready to die in the line of duty, Janeway is obligated by duty to favour her crew over that of an unknown entity such as Tuvix. This duty of care is more important than ever in the far-flung reaches of the Delta Quadrant. Several times, Janeway has made a point of sticking to Starfleet principles even to her own detriment. She has promised to get them all home, and that includes Tuvok.

Spock’s famous adage that ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’ provide a simplistic solution to the Tuvix issue. Tuvix is one. Tuvok and Neelix are two. Far better to save two lives than one. But another Starfleet captain once declined to let pure arithmetic decide who lives and dies. So let’s look at this from an emotional standpoint. At this juncture, it’s worth noting that it is due to the emotional plea of Kes that Janeway eventually decides to save Neelix and Tuvok.

Yes, two lives are more important than one, but it is not simply three lives that will be impacted by Janeway’s decision. Voyager‘s crew cares deeply for their missing friends and coworkers, and the morale boost by having them restored to life is incalculable. Conversely, the impact on morale of Janeway taking an innocent life has the potential to be highly damaging. But the crew are not the only ones involved. While Neelix may have settled his entire life on the ship, Tuvok has a family on Vulcan. Though Vulcans claim to be governed by logic rather than emotion, there can be little doubt that T’Pel and the rest of Tuvok’s family would rather he return to them alive than receive a notice of his death. Tuvix may be easy to like, but that natural charm cannot compete with decades-long relationships.

On a more tactical note, it is better to have two officers than one. Yes, Tuvix is capable of carrying out both roles, but if something were to happen to him, then Voyager has lost two valuable positions. Whereas if Neelix were to die, Tuvok could continue to function, and vice versa. Furthermore, at this stage in their journey, Voyager heavily reliant on Neelix’s local knowledge and contacts. While Tuvix does have that knowledge, he lacks the contacts. Many of these potential aids to Voyagers journey are not useful simply because of who they are, but because Neelix knows them personally. This familiarity is one thing that Tuvix cannot recreate.

As a final point, let us look to Voyager‘s EMH. The EMH is programmed with strict moral coding, which preventing him from acting in a way that Starfleet Medical determines to be immoral. Crucially, he is unwilling to perform the procedure that would separate Tuvok and Neelix. This suggests that an official investigation would likely find similar fault with her actions. However, he is willing to prepare the necessary medications, and does not act to stop Janeway. Nor do any of the crew. Captains have always been given some leeway in their command style, and this would appear to be an exaggerated case of that guidelines before rules approach. Without direct oversight, Janeway remains the highest authority on her ship, for better and for worse.

The Verdict: Morally, killing Tuvix to save Tuvok and Neelix is wrong. It amounts to an execution. However, it is a tactically sound decision. Taking into account Voyager‘s unique situation, I judge that Janeway made the correct decision.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

3 thoughts on “Ethics of Trek: Should Janeway Have Saved Tuvix?

    1. Tuvix wanted to live, and to help the crew get home. That said, when Janeway made her choice, he protested, but did not physically resist. It’s possible he understood her decision, or simply that he was powerless to stop it.

      Liked by 1 person

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