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Part II: Pieces Of The Puzzle

Everyday seems to bring new revelations about the mental state of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525, who investigators say deliberately downed that plane, killing himself and all 149 innocent people on board. Because such a horrific act is difficult to even fathom, questions about Lubitz' mental state are central to the investigation. Keeping in mind the distinction between suicide and mass murder and the latter applying to this tragedy, the mental state involved was not one of mild depression or anxiety. Lubitz set in motion the events leading to the deliberate, deadly killing of 149 people, and remained calm (as indicated by his steady breathing caught on the cockpit recorder) as the captain banged on the cockpit door trying to gain re-entrance and passengers screamed as they realized the plane was going to crash. Something much deeper, much more serious, and much more severe was present in the mind and brain of Andreas Lubitz.

New evidence has confirmed this: CNN has reported that while Lubitz was on leave from his training in 2009, he was treated with injections of a potent anti-psychotic medication here in the U.S. The prosecutor on the case also revealed that Lubitz had at least one prior suicide attempt. Additionally, torn up prescriptions and medical notes were among the items seized from Lubitz' apartment. A friend of Lubitz and his former girlfriend have now come forward saying that Lubitz did suffer from bouts of depression, had anger problems, and according to the girlfriend, had a dark side. All of this, including the information that will inevitably continue to emerge over the following days and weeks, paints a picture of a young man with a severe mental illness.

So why weren't any of these facts previously known?


Strict medical privacy laws made it easy for Lubitz to hide his condition from his employer, Lufthansa. Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, was never informed of the reason for Lubitz' medical leave in 2009. As long as a person passes the medical certification, which Lubitz did, the condition for which the leave was taken is not revealed. The medical certification process focuses on physical conditions and not psychological issues, and mostly relies on self-reporting of any stress, depression, etc. Although there are some differences between the European reporting system for pilots, the reliance on self-reporting of psychological issues is the same in the U.S. (See Part I)


Many are openly questioning the fact that medical privacy laws tilt so much in favor of the patient when public safety is involved. But experts point out that privacy laws are designed to encourage people to consult doctors and get treatment for all types of conditions without fear of repercussion. Here in the U.S., HIPPA does allow "covered entities" such as doctors to warn of someone they are treating who they believe could harm themselves or the public. Some are advocating for this public safety caveat to become a mandatory reporting requirement for healthcare professionals.

Another approach is providing employers in areas of public safety--air traffic, public transit, police, fire fighters, the means to learn more about their employees' mental and physical health. This may involve carving out exceptions to confidentiality rules for these occupations, or developing more rigorous training/certification processes for certain professions. Although someone struggling with a mental illness has a right to privacy, when that person trains to be a pilot, or a bus driver, or to hold other positions with responsibility for the lives of others, that person may necessarily need to trade some privacy for the privilege of the position.


If you have been injured due to an unfit or inadequately trained worker, contact Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer David Thomas for a free evaluation of your case.

Categories: News, Medical Privacy Laws
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