As French investigators pursued the recent Germanwings tragedy with clear determination, they likely pondered that more frequently as the days progressed. The co-pilot was, indeed, a mass murderer of horrific proportions. He was also a disturbed man who should not have been flying a plane. In this “post 9/11” era, how does such a thing happen? Have we forgotten about terrorist pilots?
Immediate Germanwings responses offered the simple “solution” that US airlines already practice: always have at least two people in the secured cockpit. But, would such a system have stopped this tragedy? Would the co-pilot not have simply subdued or otherwise restrained a flight attendant as he completed his evil deed? His premeditation and preparation was reportedly extensive.
The world has struggled for more than a decade to balance airline security with privacy and freedom. It hasn’t gone well, and was mostly farcical until March 24. Think about how many tubes of mascara and hand lotion were confiscated as underwear and shoe bombers boarded planes. Or how many of your emails were scanned by NSA to determine whether you could be offered “TSA –Pre.” (Ever wonder how that happens?!) I long for the “old days” every time I enter an airport.
Travel stress will be heightened now. Thanks to Andreas Lubitz’s terrorism, we’ll look carefully at our pilots and crew as we enter a plane - wondering whether they will get us there safely or take us on a terrifying final ride. Someone else should be concerned with that question. Not us.
Each day we learn more about Lubitz’s psychiatric history. A deadly imbalance of privacy over public safety in Germany has come to light. Lubitz should not have been driving a bus, a train, controlling air traffic, let alone manning an aircraft. There is overwhelming agreement that people with severe mental illnesses should be identified and treated – not quietly shepherded into positions that require integrity and reliability on a grand scale. People who choose such positions should understand that they are also choosing to be monitored carefully. It “comes with the job” of taking so many lives into one's hands each day. Privacy cannot be the primary driver.
Health care providers have a unique and essential role not only in caring for individual patients, but in protecting the public. The fate of Flight 9525 could have been altered by a physician with an enlightened perspective, perhaps one who paused to consider whether s/he would travel on a plane that Lubitz was piloting.
Louis Lasagna’s Modern Hippocratic Oath includes – “I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body, as well as the infirm.”
In the future, may our clinicians, indeed, feel obligated to all their fellow human beings.
Politics Writ Large