OCD About Safety: The Germanwings Crash
For as long as we can remember, passing a medical exam has either been a hassle, a pest, a source of anxiety, or, at the very least, some combination of the three. The school nurse pokes your spine, makes you breathe one, two, three times too many and asks you all sorts of questions about allergies and diseases you don’t even know how to spell. Sounds more like a torture method than a health inspection, does it not? As we grow older, though, we increasingly seem to take matters into our own hands. Whether out of arrogance, time constraints, or our unlimited access to WebMD.com, our tendencies to self-diagnose have skyrocketed. What adds to this is the abnormal spike of ADHD and ADD cases that have been diagnosed over the years which, again, we monitor with OCD precision. It’s a vicious cycle.
With this newfound obsession, it appears as though we have entered the Arab Spring of Patient Presumptuousness. Who needs doctors after all? Well, in the recent Germanwings flight 4U9525 tragedy, disaster struck out of this exact issue. Where do we need what kind of medical specialists and, most importantly, when do we need them to act? A variety of both legislative and moral canons influenced the events that took place on and preceding March 24th, 2015.
The puzzle begins with two pieces that do not align. The EASA, also known as the European Aviation Safety Agency, reported that in recent years the German Aviation Authority had handled certain medical cases leniently. However, the officials responsible for handling mental illness cases within flight agencies like Lufthansa act as mere middlemen. According to Bloomberg Magazine, aeromedical examiners lack the expertise in the assessment of psychological ailments and, in turn, are not necessarily expected to spot symptoms unless pilots express very clear behavioral problems that may be linked to mental instability. The problem lies in the communications between personal practitioners and airline officials. Those affiliated directly with the airlines, more specifically airline officials, are only responsible for judging the physical fitness of pilots, not their psychological wellbeing. Maybe they should be.
It is also noteworthy to mention a comment made by FAZ, a German newspaper, regarding airline rules and regulations. German law holds doctors accountable for reporting patients that pose a severe risk to others due to depression or, and Andreas Lubitz’s doctor will most likely be no exception. According to FAZ, Mr. Lubitz’s psychiatrist should have set up a meeting with the co-pilot’s employer to inform Lufthansa of his dangerous mental state. However, this meeting never took place. Not only does this count as a breach in the legislative code surrounding aeronautical safety, but also as a worrisome indication that the discretion we value in our doctors is not enough to save us from ourselves. Said psychiatrist had pronounced the pilot unfit to fly the day of the “accident.” Mr. Lubitz withheld this information and proceeded to go to work anyway. On one hand, German law takes doctor-patient confidentiality very seriously, putting it at the top of healthcare’s moral agenda. Yet, although the Hippocratic oath is of utmost importance, hence why there is nothing illicit – per se – about Mr. Lubitz’s doctors’ choice to remain silent, where does confidentiality find its limits? Virtue, valor and veneration of the law seem to conflict with each other on this front.
In addition, the nature of the crime is controversial. Was it a massacre aimed at many, a suicide aimed at one, or a suicidal massacre? It has been generally accepted that Mr. Lubitz’s cause of death was suicide. As stated by Gaby Dubbert in the New York Times, the fact that the crash was planned strengthens this argument. Records show that Mr. Lubitz had researched methods of suicide on the Internet prior to flying Germanwings into the French Alps. Despite the co-pilot’s morbid wish to end his own life, though, one cannot deny the numbers. Mr. Lubitz not only killed himself, but 105 innocent passengers. Suicide is murder in itself but when there is more than one victim, we are bound to face the situation with skepticism.
How sure are we that this crash was not linked to the series of recent airplane incidents? How can we know that suicide wasn’t just an easy alibi for organized crime? Finally, when it comes to safety, is there such a thing as being too OCD?
- Frederike Cardello