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In Star Trek: Voyager, the Delta Quadrant species called the Vidiians steal organs from all and sundry because they suffer from a degenerative disease called the Phage. Their medical technology is far superior to that of the Federation's and they possess advanced transport capabilities.

So why not just replicate the required organs (since transport and replication are basically the same technology)? Or better yet, clone them (something that even we in the 21st century are close to achieving)?

  • 2
    Because what fun would that be? Its much more fun to strike fear in to the locals and be labeled as bogey men. – Xantec Feb 28 '12 at 16:10
  • 1
    Because there's nothing like the taste of fresh meat! – eidylon Feb 28 '12 at 16:12
  • Seems to me replicators can't produce living matter/beings (I could check my copy of TNG technical manual to be sure), if so then replicating functional organs wouldn't work. – Nu'Daq Sep 3 '15 at 13:45
  • Kirk and Riker were both duplicated by transporter accidents. Shirley with the survival of their race on the line, they could figure out how to duplicate individual organs on purpose. – Kenster Sep 3 '15 at 15:21
  • @Nu'Daq: In Phage, the Doctor says that Talaxian lung physiology is too complex to be replicated, thereby implying that the physiology of other species may very well allow to replicate working organs. – O. R. Mapper Sep 3 '15 at 18:58
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In-universe, from what we know of the Phage, it is a communicable disease; not easy for other species to catch, but it can spread. That would make cloning organs extremely risky, as extreme care must be taken not to contaminate your source material. The cloning process can also introduce genetic defects; consider taking a piece of paper and making a copy of a copy of a copy etc on a Xerox. Eventually the message is lost completely and you have to start over. With organs, which are perishable, your original organs will be non-viable very quickly and you either have to start cloning clones or simply harvest more organs.

Replication is tricky, and is not quite the same as transport. There are things that can be transported that cannot be replicated; photon torpedoes, for instance, are too complex to be replicated but can be transported from place to place. Replication of foodstuffs is possible, but replication is usually always seen as second-best to the "real thing". If a machine can be sufficiently complex as to prevent replication, and food is never quite right from a replicator, I wouldn't want a donor lung from a replicator.

Out-of-universe, the need to constantly harvest organs of other species makes the Vidiians a particularly frightening enemy faction; while some Vidiians have a conscience and are trying to both cure the Phage and in the short-term find a more acceptable alternative, the majority of Vidiians have rationalized what they do and are all the more horrifying for seeing nothing wrong with it. The Kazon were little more than stand-ins for the Klingons or Cardassians, and as Voyager passed out of that race's home territory their threat diminished. The Vidiians, OTOH, would need a much bigger territory to "farm" for organs, making them a danger for much longer. Once the Borg were introduced as a threat as Voyager entered their home space, the Vidiians also fell by the wayside (the assimilation of an entire person, mind and body, into the collective is just as frightening in its own way as the Vidiians organ-harvesting).

  • Besides which, the Borg likely wouldn't let Vidiians harvest drones for organs. – Xantec Feb 28 '12 at 16:54
  • Even if they don't have uncontaminated Vidiian genetic material, I don't see why they can't just get cell samples from other species and grow them. And there are plenty of ways to avoid genetic defects during successive rounds of cloning, the easiest of which is to simply discard cell lines that develop defects (which is basically how evolution works). As for replication/transport, the technology has perfectly replicated biomatter on more than on occasion, the most notable being the Thomas Riker incident. – HNL Feb 29 '12 at 4:29
  • Except how do you know that material has developed a defect? Evolution doesn't destroy all mutation. And my point was that once cellular material of any kind is "adapted" by the Vidiians for transplant, it becomes susceptible to the Phage; otherwise the Vidiians would only have needed one round of organ harvesting to replace each organ that failed and then they'd never worry about it again. And while transportation can also replicate human tissue instead of simply transmitting it, the point was that replication had trouble exactly reproducing organic matter from raw material. – KeithS Feb 29 '12 at 18:44
  • I can think of one counter-example: The Genitronic replicator, while experimental, did have a high enough resolution to duplicate genetic material – Izkata May 30 '13 at 23:05
  • Replicator technology wasn't even known in the part of space the Vidiians are from, so that was out. – Nate Watson Sep 4 '15 at 2:27
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This is just one of the many plot holes and deficiencies of VOY (like how uneducated brutes like the Kazon, who can't even process water, are able to be a space-faring race, much less a threat to species who have mastered basic industrial age technologies).

(More) Ethical Alternatives

Given the technological capabilities of the Vidiians, it should have been possible for them to find far more efficient/ethical alternatives to organ piracy:

  • Artificial organs and cybernetics: Vidiians are overall about as (if not more) technologically advanced as the Federation. Hearts, livers, kidneys, lungs, and even skin can be replaced with synthetic alternatives: artificial hearts and lungs already exist (although artificial lungs are currently rather bulky and are worn in a backpack connected to a large portable generator that has to be towed around by the user), and dialysis machines likewise replace kidneys, and similar machines are being developed for liver functions. Data himself uses bioplast sheeting which behaves much like human skin.
  • Biosynthetic organs: stem cells are currently being used to grow all sorts of replacement organs and limbs, including noses, ears, hearts, and livers. While embryonic stem cells might be controversial to many; recycling embryos (ones which have 0% chance to ever become a human being and are otherwise simply discarded) from fertility clinics is certainly better than killing people. Given Vidiian technology, it should be possible to harvest a small amount of stem cells to use for mass production of biosynthetic organs. Adult stem cells from other species can also be extracted without harming the donor (and possibly even in exchange for financial compensation).
  • Organ farming: Given that sapience or even sentience isn't a requirement for donor species, there's no reason why the Vidiians couldn't simply raise domesticated animals to use as organ donors. We already do this with pigs, and given the Vidiians' genetic engineering technology (which allows them to make almost any species' organs compatible with their own), there's no reason why they should need to extract organs from sapient species. In fact, they could even genetically engineer a new species solely for organ farming: 10 arms, 10 legs, 5 hearts, 5 livers, 10 kidneys, no brain. It sounds creepy and unnatural, but it's no different from growing artificial hearts from stem cells seeded on an extracellular matrix—you're simply substituting biological structures/processes for synthetic scaffolds and other in vitro technologies.
  • Therapeutic Cloning: What better source for donor organs than a clone of the patient? This is another controversial topic, but it's still infinitely better than the solution which the Vidiians have settled on.

Minor Obstacles

As far as the threat of replicative fading or infection of replacement organs, these are easily solvable problems with the advanced technology the Vidiians have at their disposal.

Replicative Fading

Firstly, sequencing the DNA of every Vidiian during the early stages of pregnancy or extracting seed cells from the early zygote would eliminate the problems of copying errors from cloning or genetic damage from the Phage. Individual stemcells can already be extracted without harming the development of the embryo, and it's already common to sequence embryos from in vitro fertilization before one is selected for implantation. One or two seed cells could be grown into thousands, screening out and discarding any cells which contain significant copying errors. Or new cells could be created artificially (via artificial gene synthesis) using the genetic data sequenced during pregnancy.

Phage Infection

As far as phage infection, I'm sure the Vidiians are capable of producing clean rooms and employing the same type of contamination control and infection isolation techniques we have today. If needed, all interactions could be facilitated via remotely controlled robots. Or better yet, the Vidiians could simply outsource to or hire other species to man these organ production labs/farms. The Vidiians could then focus all of their economic resources on producing starships, weapons, or other manufacturing, and trade these goods or their medical services with other species for fresh organs.

So why do the Vidiians resort to organ piracy? Well, the only logical explanation for that is that their society has outlawed all of these more ethical alternatives, and black market organ harvesting arose to meet the demand. Though even this explanation is pretty thin...

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    An aside, the Kazon stole all their technology from the Trabe (including their ships) – Izkata May 31 '13 at 10:10
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    @Izkata: Machinery still requires maintenance and some technical knowledge to operate. How can you maintain a warp core or even navigate through space without getting yourself killed if you're unable to operate a simple desalination plant? And if they simply continued to steal other races' technologies and equipment, how have they not acquired the ability to produce water? – Lèse majesté May 31 '13 at 10:19
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The Doctor had asked B'ellana Torres to donate her tissue sample to Denara Pel, and successfully started genetic cell regrowth. There is your guinea pig.

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    I had the impression this was more for genetic engineering purposes, that they would use it to alter their DNA. Do you have any evidence that they were planning on replicating parts from the tissues? – Kevin May 31 '13 at 0:28
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I guess because cloned organs are already familiar to the phage virus and they will perish quickly, so they need new organs the phage virus isn't familiar with.

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