Depression and Pilots — Oil and Water

The explosive facts now come out to provide a possible explanation for the hitherto thought inexplicable: The co-pilot of the crashed Germanwings airplane, Andreas Lubitz, was likely sick with depression. This twenty-something, possibly love-sick kid, might have killed 150 people because he may have had an illness. Could his medication have deprived him of rational judgment? It is well known that depression can lead to dangerous feelings of, among other things, suicidality. As a lawyer in a firm with vast experience litigating drugs that are used to treat depression, the current speculation that Lubitz was on an anti-depressant medication, such as an SSRI, is not a wild thought. The science is compelling that SSRI’s can induce suicidality. No commercial pilot should ever be allowed to fly while on anti-depressant medication. Use of such drugs by active commercial pilots may not be prohibited by Lufthansa/Germanwings; if they are, they should say so immediately.

First, we must demand that the airline disclose the medication history of Lubitz. Was he on an anti-depressant medication the day of the crash? If so, which one or ones? It is reported that substances found in his apartment were sent to a lab for testing. Those test results must be made public. The public has a right to know everything Lufthansa and its low cost spin-off, Germanwings, knew about Lubitz’s illness.

Did they know he was once diagnosed with depression? If so, did they have any program in place to monitor his mental state? Do they insist on knowing the name of every treating physician a pilot has, especially if he or she is being treated for depression? Did they undertake to notify all treating physicians that the company was to be notified immediately if such a diagnosis is made or anti-depressants are prescribed? Does the airline, as a condition of pilot employment, have a right to demand a waiver of the right of privacy to medical records, so that doctors do not have ethical problems alerting them to a dangerous condition of a pilot?

If Lubitz had been diagnosed as depressed, it was not enough, in my opinion, for the doctor, assuming he knew his patient was a commercial pilot, to give Lubitz a note excusing him from work. He had a duty to alert the airline, which had then a duty to ground him.

But—what if the doctor didn’t know that the meds he was prescribing could induce suicidal thoughts and actions? What if he had not been properly warned of those facts? Would it now be an issue as to the culpability of the manufacturer of the anti-depressant for the loss of 150 lives?

I have raised many questions, but answers must be reserved until all the facts have come out. They must also wait until after thoughtful discussion has taken place to explore the ramifications of many of the answers.

Going forward, what safeguards must be imposed on airlines to give reasonable assurance to the public that policies designed to uncover and monitor for, mental illness will be implemented quickly and taken seriously. What safeguards will be instituted to try to ensure that an active pilot diagnosed with depression will be identified?

However, this much is clear: the families of all those who perished have a right to all information that touches on every one of the issues I have raised…Lufthansa/Germanwings has a lot of explaining to do.

By | 2016-10-17T11:46:59-07:00 March 28th, 2015|Aviation News, Rons Rants|