J Med Ethics 38:697-698 doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100216
  • Brief reports

Physician obligation to provide care during disasters: should physicians have been required to go to Fukushima?

  1. Yoshinori Hayashi
  1. Biomedical Ethics, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
  1. Correspondence to Dr Akira Akabayashi, Department of Biomedical Ethics, Graduate School of Medicine University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyoku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan; akirasan-tky{at}
  1. Contributors AA, YT, YH all contributed to the design and writing.

  • Received 2 September 2011
  • Revised 27 January 2012
  • Accepted 4 April 2012
  • Published Online First 27 April 2012


On 11 March 2011, Japan experienced a major disaster brought about by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a massive tsunami that followed. This disaster caused extensive damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant with the release of a large amount of radiation, leading to a crisis level 7 on the International Atomic Energy Agency scale. In this report, we discuss the obligations of physicians to provide care during the initial weeks after the disaster. We appeal to the obligation of general beneficence and argue that physicians should go to disaster zones only if there is no significant risk, cost or burden associated with doing so. We conclude that physicians were not obligated to go to Fukushima given the high risk of radiation exposure and physical and psychological harm. However, we must acknowledge that there were serious epistemic difficulties in accurately assessing the risks or benefits of travelling to Fukushima at the time. The discussion that follows is highly pertinent to all countries that rely on nuclear energy.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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