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In "Persistence of Vision," the EMH lets Captain Janeway know that he, as the CMO, can relieve Janeway if he deems it necessary. He does just that, and the captain retires to the holodeck.

Now, granted, if the captain is acting extremely out of character, then certainly he or she could be relieved no matter what situation the ship was in. But suppose that the captain is only stressed. Perhaps extremely stressed, as Janeway is in "Persistence." Suppose also that the ship is about to enter battle with a Gorn battleship, or the Kelvans, or whomever. (Assume that the stress is not related to the upcoming battle.)

I wonder if the CMO has the authority to relieve the captain under that sort of situation. It seems as though the "rule book" wouldn't permit it. After all, the captain needs to be ruling the ship when it goes into battle (unless, of course, he or she is acting bizarrely or threatening the ship and/or crew, but merely being quite stressed doesn't do that).

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    Aside, there's a chain of command for a reason, and the ship isn't necessarily going to be chaos if the first officer has to take over for some reason.
    – Izkata
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 2:05
  • Starfleet order 104 section C, gives Chief medical officers that power. In TOS episode "The Doomsday Machine" McCoy exorcised this power while in Battle.
    – RedOculus
    Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 4:20

1 Answer 1

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The Chief Medical Officer needs solid, documentable reasons and the support of other senior officers, and there may be consequences for the CMO if the decision to relieve the Captain is unsound.

The extent to which the Chief Medical Officer can or cannot relieve the commanding officer of duty is discussed at length in a particular TNG episode, "Lonely Among Us":

TROI: It's just a feeling that he's, well, that he's closed part of his mind to me. I just feel that the Captain has become perhaps dangerous.

RIKER: If he's dangerous. If.

LAFORGE: Then he'd have to be relieved of command. Which you could do, Doctor, but it's beaucoup trouble if you're wrong.

DATA: At the moment it is all pure speculation. He has done nothing to subject the Enterprise to danger.

CRUSHER: I'd need a medical log citing clear evidence of incapacity. You could do it without that problem.

RIKER: Only if all command officers agreed it vital to do so. But he has not been showing any overt unusual behaviour.

TROI: Ultimately, I believe he will.

CRUSHER: As second in command, it's still in your corner. I'll order medical and psychiatric exams. You'll have to back me up somehow.

(Source)

In particular, Laforge warns Crusher that there would be "trouble" if she were wrong about the decision to relieve the Captain of command. Crusher also makes the point that it would be easier for the second-in-command to relieve the Captain.

Regarding the EMH in particular, there is another instance where the Doctor tries to relieve Janeway of command, in "Year of Hell":

EMH: As Chief Medical Officer, I have the authority to relieve you of your command.

JANEWAY: You're not going to do that.

EMH: If, in my medical opinion, your judgment has been impaired, I can. And I will.

JANEWAY: Try it and I'll shut down your programme.

EMH: That threat in itself is evidence of your unstable condition.

Here, the Doctor highlights again the importance of evidence.

JANEWAY: I am sorry, Doctor. I've been operating on instinct for so long I did not think before I spoke. I have no intention of deactivating you. But I won't stay in this mess hall.

EMH: Is that final?

JANEWAY: Final.

The Doctor then cites the actual regulation that gives him his authority to relieve her:

EMH: Then you leave me no choice. Captain Kathryn Janeway, under Starfleet Medical Regulation 1-21, Section A, I, the Chief Medical Officer, do hereby relieve you of your active command, effective immediately. Have a seat.

JANEWAY: How do you plan to implement this protocol, Doctor? Mister Tuvok doesn't have a security team, both the brigs have been destroyed, and with the internal forcefields offline you'll have a hell of a time keeping me confined. You'd better grab a phaser, because before I give up command you'll have to shoot me.

EMH: You realize this incident will be noted in my official logs. By refusing my orders you risk a general court martial.

(Source)

The final part of the exchange suggests an interesting point. If the Captain refuses to comply with the order of the CMO, it is up to the Chief of Security to enforce the order. If the Chief of Security supports the Captain in his or her petition to remain in command, there is little the CMO can do other than make an official protest in a log. This again highlights the importance of the decision being backed up by other senior officers.

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    "Year of Hell" was about as bad as it gets. If the CMO has the authority to relieve the captain in that sort of situation, then an upcoming battle with a Tamarian vessel shouldn't be a problem, either. Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 2:14
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    Considering a hologram is essentially a walking force-field, the good Doctor could have enforced it himself rather handily if he was so inclined to. But, I suppose the Voyager writers didn't want a Data with emotions and sarcasm on the crew.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 8:13

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