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Ethics (episode)

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TNG, Episode 5x16
Production number: 40275-216
First aired: 2 March 1992
115th of 176 produced in TNG
115th of 176 released in TNG
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 176 released in TNG Remastered  
223rd of 728 released in all
Worf's death
Teleplay By
Ronald D. Moore

Story By
Sara Charno & Stuart Charno

Directed By
Chip Chalmers
45587.3 (2368)
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After Worf is paralyzed by a freak accident, his only hope may be a visiting doctor with questionable morals.



Lieutenant Worf and Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge are in a cargo bay investigating strange readings. Their tricorders aren't able to detect the exact problem, and no one realizes that a large, heavy container sitting on a high shelf is leaking. Another similar container is sitting on top of it. Eventually, enough of the material leaks out that the lower container begins to buckle under the weight of the upper container. The two containers fall, and the upper container hits Worf in his back. La Forge summons emergency medical assistance. Worf wakes up in sickbay to find that his spinal cord has been crushed, resulting in paralysis.

Act One

"Captain's log, stardate 45587.3. Lieutenant Worf has been removed from active duty following a severe injury. Although a neuro-specialist has arrived, Doctor Crusher believes his paralysis may be permanent."

Dr. Beverly Crusher has Dr. Toby Russell, a neurological specialist, called in. The two doctors find themselves in uncharted territory: in Klingon medicine those who are paralyzed are allowed to die. Klingons with these injuries would often commit Hegh'bat, the Klingon ritual suicide. Dr. Russell is amazed by Klingon anatomy, which has twenty-three ribs, two livers, and an eight-chambered heart. For Klingons, every vital function has a backup system.

Commander Riker goes to visit his friend in sickbay. Worf asks him for a favor. When Riker tells him to name it, Worf asks Riker to help him commit ritual suicide. Riker is shocked and repulsed by what Worf is asking for – basically to hand him a knife and leave him to stab himself in the heart.

Act Two

Dr. Russell proposes a new surgical procedure for Worf to Dr. Crusher. Dr. Russell believes that she can use what she calls a genitronic replicator to create an entirely new spinal column for Worf. But it would be the first time she had done this on a living being. Despite this, Russell wants to continue.

Meanwhile, the USS Enterprise-D diverts to render aid to the USS Denver, after the latter struck a Cardassian gravitic mine while transporting over five hundred colonists. Dr. Crusher sets up triage units in the shuttlebays, and accepts Russell's offer for assistance.

Alexander is upset over his father's accident, and even more upset that Worf will not allow Alexander to see him in his condition.

At first, Russell and Crusher have Worf try using devices to transmit impulses to the appropriate muscles. But when it is revealed that Worf would not have full mobility, he refuses to use the devices. Against Crusher's wishes, Russell proposes the genitronic procedure to Worf.

After meeting the other ship, the Enterprise medical staff begin treating casualties. Dr. Crusher discovers that a patient under Dr. Russell's care had died after Russell tried an untested, experimental treatment. Outraged by Russell's reckless choice of a radical approach over conventional treatment, Crusher relieves Russell of duty, and tells Russell that she will not be permitted to practice medicine on board the Enterprise.

Act Three

Captain Picard meets with Dr. Crusher after he learns that she has relieved Russell of duty. She had found that Starfleet had refused permission to allow Russell to use living subjects for her procedure. Crusher says that Worf was basically healthy for the time being, but that if he went into surgery he could die. Picard tells her that she should consider allowing Russell to perform the operation. He tells her that the only way to save Worf's life is to do this. Even though Crusher knows Worf could have a full life even with this paralysis, Picard knows that Worf's Klingon upbringing says that his life was over the moment he was struck by the container.

Riker studies the Klingon death ritual, and finds that Worf's son Alexander – his only immediate family member – would need to be the one to help. It is not Riker's place to help Worf commit suicide. In light of this, Worf summons Alexander to sickbay and informs him that he has chosen not to kill himself, but instead to try the surgical procedure suggested by Dr. Russell.

Act Four

"Chief medical officer's log, supplemental. After further consultation with Starfleet Medical, and a great deal of soul searching, I have reluctantly granted Lieutenant Worf's request to undergo the genetronic procedure."

Worf goes into surgery. Before going, he asks Counselor Troi if she would raise Alexander if he does not survive the operation, and she accepts. Russell and Crusher remove the old spinal cord. They use a scanner to try to scan Worf's spinal cord, but the main scanner has trouble reading the cord. Russell scans the remainder of the cord herself. Once that's done, they begin generating a new spinal cord. Everything seems to go right until the end of the operation, when suddenly Worf crashes and apparently dies on the operating table.

Crusher goes to tell Alexander that Worf has died. Alexander demands to see his father. When they come back they find that Worf's synaptic functions have reactivated; his brain also had a backup system. This allowed him to survive the operation. Soon his body begins functioning again.

While thrilled that Worf will recover, Crusher is disturbed by Russell's attitude of "the ends justify the means." Crusher tells Russell that real research is a slow and painstaking process, and that she cannot abide Russell's shortcuts.

Act Five

After the operation, Worf begins the process of physical therapy. The process is slow as it takes time for Worf's body to adjust to the new spinal cord; Worf stumbles while he re-learns to walk. Watching his father stumbling, Alexander starts to move to him, but Deanna reminds him of the Klingon stoicism about which she's spoken to him. Surprisingly, Worf asks for Alexander's help, and tells him that they will struggle together. Within a few weeks, Worf heals completely, regains full mobility, and returns to his duties.

Memorable Quotes

"No question about it: she was bluffing, Worf."
"Bluffing is not one of Counselor Troi's strong suits... It would have been unwise to call. Yes, my hand was not strong enough!"
"You had Jacks and eights; she bluffed you with a pair of sixes!"
"How did you know what I had?"
"Let's just say I had a special 'insight' into the cards..." (points to his VISOR) "Maybe next time you should bring a deck that's not transparent to infrared light."

- Geordi and Worf, discussing a recent officers' poker game

"I've done dozens of holo-simulations. The success rate is up to 37 percent."
"Even a holographic patient would balk at those odds."

- Dr. Russell and Dr. Crusher, discussing Dr. Russell's experimental surgery

"He's been injured and he's embarrassed. And to have anyone see him now would make him feel worse. Even if it were you."
"This is part of that Klingon stuff, isn't it? My mother always said Klingons had a lot of dumb ideas about honor."
"That Klingon stuff is very important to your father."

- Alexander and Deanna, discussing why Worf wouldn't see his son in his injured state

"Do you remember Sandoval? Hit with a disruptor blast two years ago. She lived for about a week. Fang-lee, Marla Aster, Tasha Yar! How many men and women, how many friends have we watched die? I've lost count. Every one of them, every single one, fought for life until the very end."

- Riker, arguing with Worf about his decision to commit ritual suicide

"Will you or will you not help me with the hegh'Bat?"
"You are my friend. And in spite of everything I've said, if it were my place, I would probably help you. But I've been studying Klingon ritual and Klingon law, and I've discovered that it's not my place to fill that role. According to tradition, that honor falls to a family member. Preferably the oldest son."
"That is impossible! He is a child!"
" 'The son of a Klingon is a man the day he can first hold a blade.' True?"
"Alexander is not fully Klingon! He is part-human!"
"That's an excuse. What you really mean, is that it would be too hard to look at your son and tell him to bring you the knife, watch you stab it into your heart, then pull the knife out of your chest and wipe your blood on his sleeve."

- Worf and Riker

"You want me to raise Alexander?"
"I have come to have a great respect for you, Deanna. You have been most helpful in guiding me since Alexander's arrival. I can't imagine anyone who would be a better parent to my son."

- Troi and Worf

"Ok, 25cc cordrazine."
"That'll kill him."
"Looks like we've done a pretty good job of that already, Doctor."

- Dr. Crusher and Dr. Russell, attempting to revive Worf

"I am delighted that Worf is going to recover. You gambled, he won. Not all of your patients are so lucky. You scare me, Doctor. You risk your patients' lives and justify it in the name of research. Genuine research takes time. Sometimes a lifetime of painstaking, detailed work in order to get any results. Not for you. You take short cuts. Right through living tissue. You put your research ahead of your patients' lives. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a violation of our most sacred trust. I'm sure your work will be hailed as a stunning breakthrough. Enjoy your laurels, Doctor. I'm not sure I could."

- Dr. Crusher, confronting Dr. Russell

Background Information

Story and production

Chalmers directing Ethics

Chip Chalmers directing a scene.

Sets and props


  • Dr. Russell makes reference to a paper Dr. Crusher has written regarding cybernetic regeneration, which Crusher had previously mentioned developing a workable approach on in TNG: "11001001".
  • In an alternate reality shown in the 7th season episode "Parallels", Worf and Deanna Troi fall in love after his operation, and the couple soon marry.
  • Unlike DS9: "Sons of Mogh", it was not clarified if this form of ritual Klingon murder/suicide would allow a Klingon soul to enter Sto-vo-kor (though it can perhaps be inferred as such, from the fact that it is an accepted ritual of the Klingon culture).
  • It is worth noting that while Commander Riker was encouraged by Captain Picard to carry out the ritual of hegh'bat, Worf himself was arrested by Odo and berated by Sisko for attempting a similar ritual on his own brother in DS9: "Sons of Mogh".
  • During this episode it is revealed that Klingons have visible ridges on their spines and feet as well as their foreheads.



  • In the novel A Time for War, A Time for Peace, the Enterprise-E is being inspected by a Starfleet team and Dr. Russell is inspecting the medical department. In another argument between Russell and Dr. Crusher, Crusher remarks again about genitronics. Russell is amazed that Crusher is still upset about her procedure, which was successful; Crusher remarks that it only barely worked and that was because of the unique nature of Klingon physiology. Crusher also notes, much to Russell's irritation, that in the decade or so since Worf's surgery, after the initial wave of articles about it, nothing has ever been heard again regarding genitronics.

Video and DVD releases

Links and references


Also starring

Guest stars

Uncredited co-stars

Stunt double

Stand-ins and photo doubles


Adelman Neurological Institute; alkysine; Aster, Marla; Beloti sector; biobed; borathium; brak'lul; Cardassian war; cargo bay; chlorinide; chloromydride; cordrazine; cortical stimulator; CPK enzymatic therapy;cybernetics; Denver, USS; detronal scanner; drechtal beam; Duras, son of Ja'rod; dynoscanner; exoscalpel; Fang-lee; inaprovaline; isocortex; genitronic replicator; genitronics; gravitic mine; hegh'bat; K'Ehleyr; Kelnaria region; Klingon; Klingon Civil War; Klingon Medical Division; laser scalpel; leporazine; Mericor system; morathial series; motor assist band; Mylaira system; neural metaphasic shock; neural transducer; neurogenetics; pia mater; poker; polyadrenaline; Potemkin, USS; restraining field; Romulan; Rozhenko, Helena; Rozhenko, Sergey; ribosome infusion; Sandoval; Sector 37628; shuttlebay; sickbay; spinal cord; Starfleet Medical; steri-field; suicide; surgical support frame; thalamic booster; tricorder; VeK'tal; VISOR; warp coil; Yar, Natasha

Previous episode:
"Power Play"
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5
Next episode:
"The Outcast"

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