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Unfit to fly and the ethical code

10th April 2015

Currently the world is trying to desperately understand why the Germanwings co-pilot would murder all the passengers on that flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf.

Every day since this horrific crime I have found myself thinking, trying to make sense of it. I have imagined the fear during the decent and I have quietly sobbed for the victims. I have watched planes in the sky and I have found myself looking at passer bys, asking myself, what I see; I have been shaken.
Focus remains on the background and mental condition of Andreas Lubitz, co-pilot and mass murderer and the details of his mental health history are gathering lots of attention.

Lubitz had been declared unfit to fly, but he had hid this from his employers... but something that keeps nagging in my head is how... how it was possible that the doctors note was found, torn up in his apartment. How is it that a certificate used to validate the health and capacity of a pilot, a job where mental health and responsibility are of upmost priority, is given to the “sick” person and expected to be to be acted upon reasonably? By definition, is this not a contradiction?

Lubitz was unwell, too unwell to fly a plane. He had a history of psychosis, in the past been medicated with anti psychotics, he had experienced suicidal ideation, he was told by his doctor to take leave, he was unwell, therefore not in a rational state...this is the trip up. He was still expected to hand in to his employer a certificate that in his head was most likely to end his career, the scenario is a disaster, and probably why the notes ended torn up and denied. The ramifications of that miscalculation were catastrophic.

As a therapist, I consider my client’s confidentiality incredibly seriously. My therapeutic space is a safe place where my clients can discuss any issue without fear of judgement or disclosure. But as I make a point of explaining, there are few exceptions where confidentiality may have to be considered, in particular if there is an imminent threat to a client’s own safety or that of another person, I am ethically and legally compelled to disclose this. I cannot and will not keep a secret for an actively suicidal or homicidal patient.

There are reports of draconian legislation and data protection laws in Germany dating back to the Nazi’s that continue to govern medical confidentiality. Was respect for Lubitz’s privacy a primary factor in allowing him to keep hold of his sick notes and keep secret his condition that made him a threat to the safety of his passengers? If so, then that respect was grossly misplaced. If there was ever a condition that called out for an exception to the rule, it would surely be “unfit to fly” a commercial airliner.

As more information becomes available we may cast more light on how Lubitz was able to crash that plane into a mountain whilst his victims screamed to their most abhorrent death. We will never know what went through his mind, what led him to that final act. Hiding his unfitness to fly and to be in a position to do so was merely a step along the way. It should never have been up to him to disclose it in the first place.