Torchwood: Miracle Day Episode 5

We generally try to avoid evaluating the merits as such of the works we analyze, trying to stick mostly to the legal side of things and letting readers come to their own conclusions about the works as a whole. But with this latest episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day, we’ve gone from “There are definitely some problems here” territory straight into “None of this makes any damned sense” territory. Still, we soldier on. The show continues to introduce—and usually botch—new legal issues, and we, your tireless writers, give them a look.

Spoilers inside, as always.

This time, we’re really just looking at one big issue: categorization. This is… a steaming mess.

First, they got the categorization scheme wrong. The schemes as presented are 1) people who ought to be dead; 2) people with chronic illnesses; and 3) people who are uninjured. Well what about people with temporary illnesses? There’s just no category for them. Or people with chronic but non-fatal conditions? They’re category two, but last time I checked, asthma and psoriasis aren’t terribly likely to kill anyone. The biggest objection to the scheme by the characters is that it lets the government play God, deciding who is dead and who isn’t. And because category two is so sweeping, they’re entirely correct. The categories should be: 1) people who manifestly, obviously, ought to be dead; 2) people who absent the Miracle might be dead, but might not be, and 3) everyone else. That way we capture the epistemic limitations of deciding who ought to be dead by leaving that category solely for those people for whom there is no doubt, i.e. they fit the current legal definition of death but are still alive anyway. We also keep people with “normal” illnesses who are either going to get better or clearly wouldn’t have died even before the Miracle in category one. Much, much better all around.

But second, it seems that the categorization legislation and bureaucracy seems to have sprung into existence, fully formed, in the space of about half a day. We had never heard mention of categorization before this. Yet the day before categorization is slated to go into effect, Esther can access forms for the categorization process. This is not how administrative law works, and even if PhiCorp had been preparing for years, the government hasn’t, so there’s really no way they could have set up camps, let alone hire bureaucrats, on that kind of notice. Even six months would be unrealistically fast. Most people think that the maddening part of bureaucracy is red tape, and they’re right, but red tape, as such, exists because bureaucracies take so long to get anything done and have incredible institutional inertia. They can’t react as fast as they do in this episode, and if they could, they wouldn’t have red tape.

Third, it seems likely that the categorization scheme, as proposed, is completely unconstitutional. Even if we adopt the more rational categories proposed above, we’re still left with the fact that we’re treating people who are manifestly alive as if they had no civil rights. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments won’t permit that. Essentially, no one can be put into category one without some kind of due process, and a doctor’s ad hoc determination isn’t going to be enough. This would also mean that pronouncing someone dead wouldn’t be a purely functionary determination. It’s discretionary. Due process would probably involve some kind of adversarial proceeding, with the state seeking a determination that the person “ought to be” dead. This could be pretty quick, but it would need to be more official than a resident not finding a pulse and sticking you with a red clothespin.

Fourth, it’s possible that the categorization system could be implemented largely as described—with the above modifications—constitutional law be damned. Civil rights depend significantly on the courts for their enforcement, and civil rights litigation can often take quite a while. Much of it happens in the context of criminal law, and much of the rest of it has to do with single events, not ongoing in fractions. What’s being proposed here is a massive, systemic, overwhelming change to society. The Court might not be able to stand in the way of that, particularly if categorization is something that both the Legislative and Executive branches really want. The Court eventually bowed to political pressure in permitting the New Deal to go forward, and it’s plausible that they could bow to necessity and do the same thing here. As the law is significantly what they say it is, a ruling that categorization is constitutional does not seem implausible.

As far as putting people in camps goes… it wouldn’t be the first time.

Burning category one people “alive” is distinctly unpleasant… but might not actually be illegal. If the Supreme Court ruled that categorization was constitutional, disposing of category one individuals might actually be permissible. Repugnant, perhaps, but there isn’t much about this situation that’s awesome. The real question is: why? We’ve spent two episodes being teased with what PhiCorp is up to, and this week they suggested 1) using these people to develop new diseases to expand the demand for drugs, and 2) vivisection and human experimentation. Neither of those are particularly plausible, but hey, at least they have the benefit of implying some benefit for someone. But Dachau-style ovens? Really? Who benefits there? I mean, society potentially, but other than looking crazy prepared, how does this benefit PhiCorp at all? It just doesn’t figure.

That’s it for this week. Which is good, because the show increasingly isn’t. But never fear: We’ll grit our teeth and be back at you with another post in a week or so.

19 responses to “Torchwood: Miracle Day Episode 5

  1. We also keep people with “normal” illnesses who are either going to get better or clearly wouldn’t have died even before the Miracle in category one.

    Did you mean category three?

    Anyway, did they provide any justification for killing people who “should” have died? It can’t be because there isn’t enough food because nobody is starving to death. In fact, people can eat really really unhealthy food if they want because even if they get sick they won’t die. And overcrowding is only a problem if people continue to have children. Logically fewer people will want to have children. Why? Because if you never die you will never have anything to pass on to your children, not unless your children forcefully take property from you and that would make for a pretty miserable endless retirement. Best case scenario is your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren etc. either all occupying the same house or building new houses on land you own.

  2. Dying isn’t the worst part of starvation. Hunger is. Leaving people to starve forever is only mildly less morally bad than crematoriums, with the added logistical complication that you still need to find a place to keep ’em all.

    • Logically people would feel weak from hunger and then become thinner as they burned fat and then the body would start to feed on itself. Logically then the person would either die or subsist on whatever force is keeping people alive. Seriously if a severed head can remain alive then clearly people no longer need to eat even if they feel hungry.

      Anyway, if nobody is going to die then there is less reason to worry about whether or not food is nutritious. People could drink cooking oil and not die of a heart attack. That means more food to around, probably enough for everybody, for the time being at least until the next generation starts eating solid food.

      You know, it’s too bad this series isn’t panning out because this concept has potential. After all, with advances in medicine and nutrition, people are living longer. Does that mean that fifty years from now when the Earth becomes too overpopulated that we will start cremating people when they reach 100 on the basis that they “should have died”?

    • While I agree that starvation is a big global problem, your characterization of it is a little misleading. The human body “knows” how to starve, so after a certain amount of time has passed (days or weeks, somewhat variable depending on the health of the person starting), the body begins to shut down systems in a relatively painless manner. Thus, long-term starvation while getting just barely enough food to *subsist* sucks, but complete and total starvation *to death* is one of the most pleasant ways to die.

      Neither here nor there, I realize.

  3. It appeared to me during the episode that the categorisation scheme was set out by the United Nations. This explains the consistency in the terms between the US, the UK, and the other countries who had the camps.

    Obviously UN laws (recommendations? ideas? not sure of the correct term) don’t automatically contradict the laws of an individual country, but what implications could this have? Perhaps allowing the countries to wash their hands of the moral responsibility by saying “the UN picked them”?

    • Actually, that’s not how I read that. The way it was presented in the show, the categories were developed by experts at the health care panels and then forwarded to the Secretary of HHS, who recommended that they be adopted. Congress passed a law authorizing that, and the President signed it. The UN then approved the categories, i.e. indicated that they would not interpret them as a violation of human rights.

      I think the reason for consistency between US and UK is that there’s only one set of writers, which is true both on an in-universe and meta level. The health care community, at least at the physician level, is actually pretty international, especially for academic stuff like this. Experts in the US routinely give papers at European conferences and vice versa. So the idea that they might develop a consistent response is not entirely implausible. Of course, the real reason is that the show’s writers probably didn’t bother to think about it, but whatever.

    • This explains the consistency in the terms between the US, the UK, and the other countries who had the camps.

      Depends on how you define “consistency in terms”. The Welsh Category 2s were covered in red colour-coding. The Americans used blue for 2s and red for the good-as-dead 1s. I foresee horrible mix-ups (that may or may not be on-screen) resulting from this.

  4. The forced removal of people to camps reminded me of the forced removal of children during the Children of Earth storyline. Maybe in England would people sheepishly comply with government round ups of family members, but in the U.S. there would be incredible armed resistance. And I agree that Miracle Day is a weak, drawn out story.

    • “in the U.S. there would be incredible armed resistance”
      Americans WERE put in camps by their government, during WWII – it’s linked in the article, but search for Japanese-American camps if you want more sources.

      “And I agree that Miracle Day is a weak, drawn out story.”
      This, I agree with.

      • Those were Japanese after the Pearl Harbor attacks with few friendly politicians, little historical power and very limited access to firearms. That the act in itself was more than bit questionable is obvious, but the U.S had a great number of factors to help carry it out. Look at the First Nation reservations and camps and you’ll see that armed resistance is indeed possible. Now look at the political makeup of the Mountain states, the easy access to firearms everywhere and the geography and try to find an easy way to enforce this.

    • Depends on who was going into the camps.

  5. Kulgur, we aren’t taking about 1942, we’re talking about modern-day, where damn few Americans would march like sheep into concentration camps.

    • And yet you think Europeans would?

      • I’m saying Europeans don’t have the in-home firepower that many Americans do, and so could not fight back on the scale Americans would. But I think the current London Riots are in reaction to the current tedious Torchwood storyline.

      • “I’m saying Europeans don’t have the in-home firepower that many Americans do, and so could not fight back on the scale Americans would.”
        Fair point.
        “But I think the current London Riots are in reaction to the current tedious Torchwood storyline.”
        And deservedly so.

  6. Melanie Koleini

    Wouldn’t the presence of the categorization scheme have the net effect of making people avoid doctors like the plague? If a person can’t die but may be set to a concentration camp if they look sick, I’d think most people would avoid looking sick at all cost.

    And what about bribing doctors to make sure grandma is put in the correct category? Given the stakes involved, both for the individual and their potential heirs, doctors would suddenly be pressured from all sides to make decisions based on factors other than the health of their patients.

  7. My impression is that US authorities have immense powers to contravene civil rights under the various public health laws, which might include quarantining large numbers of folks on a doctor’s say-so if, for example, MRSA, cholera, and other infectious diseases really are a major danger. Sadly, the writers don’t seem to have read up on the debates about what public health can, and can’t do, that cropped up during the big Bird Flu scare of a year or two ago.
    The speed is insane — Congress probably can’t agree to vote itself a pay raise in less than a week — never mind create a whole new bureaucracy in a day. Just plain dumb — and 5 episodes in without an alien menace in sight.

    • There’s a major difference between putting someone in quarantine because they about to spread dangerous diseases through the community and incinerating someone because they aren’t dead. Yes, the writers had the straw-woman make the argument that there are limited resources but that doesn’t add up. Not in a nation as rich and large as the U.S.

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