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Can self-preservation be virtuous in disaster situations?
  1. Justin Oakley
  1. Correspondence to Associate Professor Justin Oakley, Centre for Human Bioethics, School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia; justin.oakley{at}

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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 To¯hoku 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. This ethical demand to …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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