pp. 81-84 in Protection of the Human Genome and Scientific Responsibility

Editors: Michio Okamoto, M.D., Norio Fujiki, M.D. & Darryl R.J. Macer, Ph.D.

Copyright 1996, Eubios Ethics Institute All commercial rights reserved. This publication may be reproduced for limited educational or academic use, however please enquire with Eubios Ethics Institute.

Kyoto Session

Natural Disaster and Artificial Disaster

Michio Okamoto(
President, International Institute for Advanced Studies


As you know, we had the crushing Great Hanshin Earthquake in the early morning hours of January 17 this year in the area of Kobe-Awaji, which claimed 5,500 lives and destroyed 250,000 houses.

We have had so many serious earthquakes in Japan from ancient time to the present. The most well-known big earthquake was the Kanto Great Earthquake centered in Tokyo in 1923, which gave so serious damages to people and houses there. The Earthquake of this time differ from the Kanto Great Earthquake at least in two points:

1) The earthquake of this time occurred in a big modern city.

2) This earthquake was a near-field earthquake.

On January 19, the third day of the earthquake, I could enter the city and look at the devastated state of city area, covered with black smoke of fire occurred here and there in the city.

The building of our hospital, Kobe City General Hospital, was safe in appearance, but the interior was completely destroyed. Immediately a relief parties were formed to rescue the branch of our hospital, located in Higashinada Ward, the most seriously damaged area in whole Kobe City.

Looking at the immediate scene of heavily devastated part of the city, I got following fresh impression.

The first was tremendous power of nature. It seemed to ignore the all existing matters on the earth including human being living there. In peaceful daily life under science and technology civilization, we forget the nature itself, needless to say the dreadfulness of the nature. This is especially the case for us Japanese, who live in beautiful change of four seasons in the year. We feel rather the love of the nature and have been taught to thank the mercy of the nature for our peaceful life.

The second impression was the immense achievement of the technology originated in the science of the modern age. A few new western buildings were well preserved among the row of completely destroyed old Japanese houses.

These modern western buildings should have been well guaranteed the safety by means of the strict mathematical calculation. They could stand up to the destructive power of the nature. The both the power of the nature and the achievement of the modern technology were very impressive for me at the first glance of the quake-ravaged city.

In addition to these impressions, our urban lives in a big city consisted of tall buildings seemed to me to be a very unnatural way of living of human beings. If we live in a small cottages in the wide nature, we would not suffer so much from the natural disaster of this kind and grade. From this standpoint, it can be said that the natural disaster is not pure natural phenomena, but a kind of social event. In other words we don't have any pure natural disaster, but the big city disaster is always the combination of natural and artificial disasters. In early as 1934, Prof. Torahiko Terada told us already at the big typhoon Muroto that the damages of the natural disaster will be bigger proportionally to the development of the modern civilization.

Here we will consider anew the natural disaster and artificial disaster respectively and the relation of both.

What was the natural disaster for people in the past history of mankind? As you know, natural disasters have had usually some religious meaning for people in ancient times. The most popular example of the natural disaster in religious myth is that of Noah's Ark in the Old Testament. Looking at the self conceit and moral deterioration of human kind, our God has planned to destroy all living matters except one human couple of Noah. We are believed to be the descendants of the Noah's couple who survived the severe flood of 40 days and nights. We have the similar kind of stories in the Egyptian, Babylonian and Greece myths.

Not only in Christianity, but also in other religions, the natural disasters have been interpreted as the evidence of anger or admonition of God, Heaven or Buddha.

In Confucianism, the natural disaster is a kind of Heaven's will, which requests reflection of the Emperor by giving him a big earthquakes or heavy rain, when the people governed by him are suffering from his policies. In Buddhism, the natural disaster occurs in the frame of retribution as the results of bad deeds in former world. In Islam the accumulation of bad deeds of human kinds will result in the end stage of the World.

After the Middle Ages, these kinds of religious interpretation of the natural disasters has declined gradually. However, the so-called Nostradamus prophecy is still valid even in the present time, and some people are afraid of its occurrence in 1999.

Apart from these kinds of myths and prophecy, the natural disasters of historical scale have had sometimes actually dramatic disorders in Europe and other parts of the earth. The racial migration of big scale have occurred also by the natural disasters such as the eruptions of volcanoes.

We shall move to the discussion on artificial disaster. The history of the word of artificial disaster or man-made disaster is not long, and it has been used in the occasion of the big flood of North Kyushu in 1953 for the first time by Dr. Koide, a geologist, to indicate the shortage of the political measures such as defect of construction, insufficient maintenance of bank, shortage of warning or evacuation order.

Apart from the use of this word in such meaning, we have so many real artificial disasters in many respects in social lives, especially in the war. The serious artificial disaster in modern age is the misuse of the technology originated from advanced science, being culminated in the production of atomic bomb.

We have had the system of war since olden times which killed so many people. The combination of war system and atomic bomb, however, kills not only people but also extinguish the human race on the earth. The discovery of nuclear fission by 1938 by Dr. Otto Hahn has resulted in the production of atomic reactor in Chicago University in the USA in 1942, and subsequently has lead us to the age of atomic bomb by the first use of it at Hiroshima in 1945 August 6.

Besides the atomic bomb, the misuse of the modern science and technology are also hot issue in the modern lives of the world, as you understand quite well in the case of cult religion in Japan.

The North-South problem and global environmental problems are also under serious discussion all over the world. By this time it is very essential problem to think about the responsibility of scientists.

Returning to our discussion on the disasters in general, we come to notice that the modern big city disasters are the combination of natural and artificial disasters. It will be difficult to draw a clear line between two kinds of disasters, owing to the close relation of both.

In this context, there is an interesting papers by Dr. Kawada, Professor of Kyoto University Disaster Prevention Institute, dealing with analogy between modern cities and human body from the standpoint of prevention of disasters and disease respectively in the city and human body. I can not enter into the details of this paper here, owing to the limited time. I will refrain myself to the citation of the important points of modern medicine from the standpoint of its comparison with a city disaster.

1) We have to be careful for the fact that the both natural and artificial sources are involved in the human diseases. Sincere consideration should be paid to easy application of the advanced science and technology to the medical treatment.

2) Attention to the sick defects of medical treatment based on the advanced science and technology. The primary aim will be achieved by the advanced treatment of this kind derived from advanced science and technology. However, the side effects should be considered seriously. This is the case of the organ transportation and gene therapy.

3) General understanding before the local therapy, should be highly estimated in therapy. Eastern or Chinese medicine has to be estimated in its emphasis on the general treatment of the human diseases.

4) Therapy should be in the line with the natural healing power. Looking at the serious damage in the disaster of this time, we are lead to pay attention to the definite power of Nature. This is the origin of philosophy of medicine by Hippocrates.

5) Importance of crisis management. Experience in the earthquake has taught us the importance of the emergency medicine.

6) New philosophy of medicine should be elaborated in the presence of modern science and technology civilization having eyes on both traditional medicine and modern science and technology from the standpoints of Western and Eastern cultures.

The second problem of artificial disaster belongs to the responsibility of scientists.

The civilization of science and technology has contributed so much for the well-being and happiness of humankind, and at the same time it has brought about the variety of disadvantages for human survival on the earth.

By the proposal of Dr. Sperry in the USA and Dr. Levi Montalcini in Italy, the Declaration of Human Duties is in draft as the pair of the Declaration of Human Rights of United Nation Charter. Though I have no time to describe the details of the declaration, consisted of 11 points. The responsibilities of the scientists of this age are pointed out under the title of human duties for the next generation.

The activities of our MURS are of course in the same line of the declaration.


Appendix: Declaration of Human Duties

1. Respect for human dignity and creativity as well as for ethnic and cultural diversity.

2. Elimination of any discrimination against women and of exploitation of children.

3. Preservation of genetic diversity among living organisms including humans, which represent millions of years of evolution; to preserve diversity between and within species; to condemn any attempt of eugenics as well as, in the present state of knowledge, genetic manipulation of the human germ line; and to improve the quality of life through technological developments, provided it is not at the expense of other groups of future generation.

4. Protection of the biosphere from pollution and abuse; promotion of conservation, reduced consumption, and a sustainable use of natural resources; restoration of degraded environments.

5. Reduction of energy waste and of the use of fossil fuels; promotion of alternative inexhaustible and safe energy sources.

6. Improvement of the state of people oppressed by hunger, misery or disease, by enhancing their conditions of life and by reducing unemployment.

7. Securing a more equitable distribution of world resources, technology, capital and income, in order to contribute toward a satisfactory quality of life for all human beings.

8. Respect of human life; to protect human beings against any form of destruction or exploitation of one individual (or group ) by another, and to condemn sale of parts of the living human body.

9. Promotion of improved urban and rural environment in order to alleviate dehumanizing conditions and to reduce the causes of those rapid migrations of people which result in problems of urban over-population or in the destruction of habitats and natural resources.

10. Creating the conditions for a effective voluntary family planning in order to regulate world population growth.

11. Condemnation of war, terrorism and all other hostile activities; calling for decreased military spending in all countries and restricting proliferation and dissemination of arms; reinforcing the collective responsibility for keeping peace in the world.

- We accept to be part of the first advisory Council of the International Committee for the dissemination of the Trieste Declaration (1993) on Human Duties, whose head quarter are at the University of Trieste.

- We all accept the 11 points which constitute this Declaration and we are willing to sign it.

- The Declaration will be submitted for signature also those personalities which either support the initiative of Declaration on Human Duties or intend to participate, but were forced to cancel the engagement at the last moment.

- We consider our first and immediate duty to provide the Executive Board will address and suggestion which will be useful to let the Trieste Declaration on Human Duties known not only to the largest members of scientists but also to people belonging to different cultural milieu, since we think that the duties we have listed are to be recognized by as many persons as possible.

- During the phase, studies will be promoted in order to propose decision makers in all sectors of society and social leaders possible practical solutions to the problems to recognize as true immediate dangers for survival of future generations.


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