The price of no end. Doctor Who, ethics, and the limits of humanity

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, lecture hall L4

Topic of the dissertation

The price of no end. Doctor Who, ethics, and the limits of humanity

Doctoral candidate

MA, Bachelor of Health Care Leena Vuolteenaho

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Humanities, Languages and literature

Subject of study



Docent Aino-Kaisa Koistinen, University of Jyväskylä


Professor Pentti Haddington, University of Oulu

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Immortality is both alluring and a cause for concern

The thesis examined ethical questions related to the transgression of the limits of humanity—particularly in the context of immortality and radical life extension—from the viewpoint of Christian and Buddhist ethics. The data consisted of a selection of episodes from the British science fiction TV programme "Doctor Who" in which immortality is a recurring theme. The data were used in order to make use of the possibilities of (science) fiction to serve as a thought experiment allowing phenomena impossible in present-day reality, such as immortality, to be examined as if they were possible to achieve. The theoretical framework employed elements of cultural studies, theology, philosophy, and ethics of health care.

Two main themes emerged in the study. From the viewpoint of Christian ethics, human imperfection in terms of knowledge, capability, and morality makes humans unqualified to predict the repercussions of immortality, and suggests that those involved may have questionable morals. Buddhist ethics focuses on endless life as endless suffering: even if protecting life were seen as an ethically laudable aim in and of itself, immortality would lead to suffering without end.

With advances in medicine, human life can be extended to an unprecedented degree. Sustaining life can be seen as one of the fundamental duties of medicine; immortality may be considered the logical conclusion of this aim. However, immortality is accompanied by various ethical concerns, seen not only in debates regarding the ethics of medicine but also in fictional stories depicting immortality.

In terms of ethical challenges faced in real life, the findings of the study indicate that the pursuit of immortality is both alluring and a cause for concern. The concerns seen in the data regarding the morals of those pursuing immortality and the suffering that results from immortality can be applied to real-life efforts to extend the lifespan of humans as well.

The findings of the study suggest that when striving to extend the human lifespan, it is important to acknowledge the ethical concerns related to the issue. The influence of different religious and ethical worldviews on which concerns are seen as particularly pressing and how to address these concerns should also be considered. In addition, the data used in the study demonstrate that (science) fiction offers unique opportunities to increase understanding of real-life phenomena.
Last updated: 23.1.2024