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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Can self-preservation be virtuous in disaster situations?

By Justin Oakley
Journal of Medical Ethics 

Ordinary moral rules and virtues can be found seriously inadequate in circumstances where natural catastrophes afflict large numbers of people. Satoshi Kodama provides a strong defence of the rule of tsunami-tendenko being invoked as an evacuation policy in these exceptional situations, such as that facing many people in the Tōhoku region of Japan during the severe earthquake and subsequent tsunami there on 11 March 2011.1 As Kodama explains, tsunami-tendenko tells a person in such situations to prioritise self-preservation over attempting to help others, and people living in earthquake-prone and tsunami-prone areas have learned from past experience that acting on such a rule is likely to save more lives overall than is acting on a policy of searching for and attempting to help others escape the disaster.

Tsunami-tendenko seems to be a reasonable general principle for people to follow in such exceptional circumstances, particularly where disasters strike suddenly, and the resulting chaos can make efforts to locate others not only extremely difficult but in some cases suicidal. Kodama provides plausible indirect consequentialist arguments for this principle to be used in these dramatic situations.

The entire article is here.