by David Sisler

During the 1960's when the classic version of Star Trek was filmed, the show frequently made social commentary, disguised as science fiction. "The Quickening," written by Naren Shankar continues that tradition on Star Trek: Deep Space 9

Dr. Julian Bashir and Lieutenant Commander Dax beam down to a world where all of the inhabitants are born with "the blight," a fatal disease genetically engineered by DS9's current bad guys, the Dominion. When the blight "quickens," a horrible death, filled with excruciating pain, will soon follow.

At a hospital they meet Trevean, a man who says, "I am a healer. People come to me when they quicken. I help them leave this world peacefully, surrounded by their family and friends. The chemicals I give them brings death quickly. No one wants to suffer needlessly."

Assisted by Akoria, a pregnant woman, Dr. Bashir searches for a cure for the blight. When he becomes frustrated because he cannot get more people to volunteer to assist his research, Akoria explains, "We've come to worship death. Going to Trevean seemed so much easier than going on living."

Bashir's experiments with a promising antigen fails. Eventually, Akoria quickens and Trevean appears at her bedside.

"I can end your suffering," he says. "Your child will have known nothing but peace."

"No," Akoria says, "he deserves a chance to live."

"The blight will take him in the end," Trevean argues.

Akoria lives long enough for her baby to be born -- completely free of the blight. The antigen was absorbed through the placenta. Bashir has discovered a vaccine. If Akoria had allowed Trevean to administer mercy killing, the vaccine which will save her world, would have died with her, and her baby.

Like I said, it's only a story. Science fiction at that.

But reality is frightening. Thanks to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, fiction is now tangible.

In the case of Compassion in Dying Vs. State of Washington, the Court overturned a Washington law banning doctor assisted suicide.

If you think Stephen King has lost his touch and can no longer scare the bejeebers out of you, read the transcript from Compassion. The court goes so far as to suggest that in the cases where doubt exists, it is better to err on the side of death, not on the side of life. Referring to the assertion of a state interest in preventing deaths that occur as a result of errors in judgment, the opinion says, "should an error actually occur, it is likely to benefit the individual by permitting a victim of unmanageable pain and suffering to end his life."

Of course, the law was supposed to "benefit" competent people, but the Ninth Circuit saw to it that someone can take care of you, if you become incompetent -- a surrogate can make the decision for you.

Are you frightened enough? Want some more?

Writing for the Court, Judge Stephen Reinhardt said, "We are reluctant to say that it is improper for competent terminally ill adults to take the economic welfare of their families and loved ones into consideration." Translation: if your illness is a financial burden on your family, you should do the right thing, and kill yourself.

Just so that the West Coast won't get out of here before the Easterners, the Federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently struck down New York's law protecting against assisted suicide. If their ruling in Quill Vs. Koppell is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, it threatens to provide for the nonvoluntary killing of people with disabilities who have never asked to die.

Hiding its collective head in the sand, the Court wrote, "It is difficult to see how the relief the plaintiffs seek would lead to the abuses found in the Netherlands."

Abuses? In the Netherlands? In 1993, in the Dutch city of Assen, a three judge court acquitted a psychiatrist who had assisted in the suicide of a healthy fifty year old woman. A report released since then revealed that in more than 1,000 cases, physicians admitted they had actively caused or hastened death without any request from the patient.

It's all those wooden shoes, right? Well, what excuse will we offer for the 20 percent of American nurses who, responding to a survey, admitted to hastening the deaths of terminally ill people, without the knowledge of doctors, families or the patients themselves? Six nurses killed 20 or more people. One nurse said, "I'm left with the dilemma of carrying out orders that I believe -- and sometimes know -- are not in the patient's best interest (emphasis added).

The Ninth Circuit Court was worried about denying due process to people who wanted to die. How about to the ones who want to live?

"Deep Space 9" is fiction. The horrors of the Ninth and the Second Circuit Courts are very real. Our legal system does not seem know the difference, and in the end, you may not be permitted to write your own ending.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 6/15/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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