The Duty to Treat Rusty the Dalek POW

Doctor Who’s “Into the Dalek” presented wonderful legal issues from treatment of prisoners to the necessity defense. The episode also has huge shout-outs to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Wars, and Fantastic Voyage.

If they ever do another Sea Devils story, I would not be surprised if there is a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea homage.

Rights of Prisoners’ of War to Medical Treatment

Dalek_Star_6705An injured Dalek the Doctor names “Rusty” had been damaged to the point of becoming good. Rusty requested a doctor for medical treatment after being captured by the “rebel” ship Aristotle.

After seeing the birth of a star, Rusty realized that “resistance is futile” to life. Dalek’s are driven by genocidal fascism to kill anything different from them, so making the leap to stargazing and the meaning of life is a very big leap. Especially without feet.

The Geneva Convention requires that a prisoner of war suffering from a “serious disease, or whose condition necessitates special treatment, a surgical operation or hospital care, must be admitted to any military or civilian medical unit where such treatment can be given…” Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949, Article 30.

Prisoners of War also have the right to seek medical attention. Id.

Rusty had the right to request treatment, given the fact he is a uniformed soldier (considering he is part biologic life form fused with a mini-tank), and a prisoner of the “rebels.” As such, treating would have been required under the rules of warfare.

Alternatively, there is another theory to treat Rusty: Prisoners with a serious mental illness can be treated with antipsychotic drugs against their will if the inmate is dangerous to himself or others. Ashby v. Schneck, 1995 U.S. App. LEXIS 17154, 3-4 (8th Cir. Minn. July 17, 1995).

Dalek’s are mentally altered by their computer programing to hate and exterminate others. The fact their computer program keeps their biological minds from growing, having memories, and learning, could be a condition that makes them dangerous to others, thus justifying treatment.

The Necessity Defense

A mildly troubling scene included using a human soldier as bait to save the rest of the team who had traveled into the Dalek. The ill-fated soldier shot anchors for repelling equipment into the deck of the Dalek, promoting antibodies to attack (very much like in Fantastic Voyage, instead with lasers instead of absorbing like the Blob).

Dalek_BaitThe Doctor throw an item to the soldier and said, “Swallow this.” After which the Dalek Antibodies killed the soldier. When questioned by Clara, the Doctor responded, “He was already dead. I was saving us.”

Using the soldier as bait for the antibodies would have been legally justified, while emotionally traumatic, based on the necessity defense.

A law school example of the necessity defense is you are on a runaway trolley, headed down the hill, to crash into station. Pulling out a gun to shoot a bystander to use as a break would save yourself and everyone on the trolley, but would be unjustified murder. You cannot kill an innocent to save yourself.

In the case of our soldier, there was no way for him to escape the Dalek, or the antibodies seeking his immediate destruction. The Doctor giving him a tablet that focused the antibodies solely on the soldier saved everyone else and limited the attack to the target soldier. While extremely cold, it was the right tactical decision to save everyone else and legally justified.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.