Amerika

The high cost of denial, mental health edition

Germanwings Flight 9525 joined the short list of airline disasters almost a year ago when it crashed into a mountain. The fascinating wrinkle here is that it was deliberately steered into the stones by a suicidal co-pilot. As usual when there is a tragedy, the first goal is someone to blame.

Many want the company to be liable. In particular, they point to its defensive, offputting reaction:

But the company’s chief executive, Carsten Spohr, projected an image of cluelessness immediately after the crash, blandly assuring the world that Lubitz had been “100 percent fit to fly” and insisting that he saw no need to change the airline’s screening procedures. Then, a Lufthansa spokesman outraged families by describing the airline as a “victim,” like the dead passengers. “You can be a victim when a terrorist blows up a plane,” Henrik Drüppel told me. “But not when one of your employees kills all the passengers.” Lufthansa had every right to grieve the loss of its crew, of course, but missing from the airline’s response was a sense that it bore any responsibility for the crime. (Prosecutors in Germany and France are continuing to investigate whether anyone besides Lubitz might be culpable for the crash; no charges have been filed.)

What no one is talking about here is that Lufthansa was manipulated into this decision by well-meaning laws.

Every now and again, people talk about the plight of the mentally ill. This mentions only half the problem; the other half is the risk of the mentally ill. They are crazy. This means they do crazy things. This is dangerous to the rest of us.

We can sugarcoat that however is necessary to flatter the crowd. We can talk about how they “struggle” and the “challenges” they face. But if we are honest, we should also talk about the danger of having suicidal, delusional, hallucinating and destructive people around. All of those terms apply to copilot Andres Lubitz who was ultimately responsible for the crash.

Under a strict, unregulated open market, Lufthansa would have dropped Lubitz like a hot potato after he dropped out of flight school because of raging depression and certainly after he forged a clean bill of mental health on an FAA form. But if they tried that in today’s society, they would run up against all kinds of rules: medical confidentiality; rights of mental health patients; civil lawsuits for discrimination.

And in that last one is the real reason for the Lufthansa 9525 tragedy: we are so afraid of discrimination that we tie our own hands against real threats.

I have infinite sympathy for Lubitz. Paranoid visualizations, hallucinations and crippling psychotic depression cannot be anything but misery. I do not know how to treat him. I know however that someone in that unstable state should not be responsible for the health and safety of others.

We see the high cost of tolerance in other areas too. We cannot notice that the Third World people have different abilities and inclinations than ours, or that their need is not to come here, but to improve There. We cannot point out that most people are selfish and short-sighted and so democracy is a failure.

Equality, tolerance, non-discrimination and the rest were sold to us as “harmless.” How true is that? Like the shattered remnants of Flight 9525, our society lies shattered on a mountain, as we pick among the wreckage wondering how far backward we will have to trace to find the cause to blame.

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