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FLYING DAGGERS

As we said yesterday here at this blog, it would likely emerge that the co-pilot was hiding an illness, or had been jilted, - as it turns out, both. In this case, which is one of mass-murder/suicide, the underlying illness seems to be depression. As a poetry blog, we are broadly sympathetic to the rights of anyone (including poets) suffering from the disability that is chronic depression - and our chief editor has written eloquently before in poems and posts about depression.

Clearly, most depressed people do not commit murder - though a small but notable minority will go on to take their own lives.  Depression is often linked to a constellation of other personality disorders which might lead to mass murder, but again this is very rare. With treatment (usually medication and some form of therapy), almost all depressive conditions can be put into remission, as it were; but make no mistake, major depressive episodes can be nightmarishly debilitating, and commonly are associated with totally negative thinking and a sense of utter hopelessness.  In the dark absence of any hope or futurity, suicidal ideation can be born.

As such, it is neither impossible, or common, for a depressed person to want to kill 150 strangers when they die; it cannot be ruled out, but neither is it to be expected that a seriously depressed pilot is going to crash his plane. Unfortunately, this raises an issue of insurance, and safety. Can an airline company allow an employee to pilot a plane when there may be even a 1% chance their depression could lead to suicidal thinking? Or is .5% enough? .0015%? The truth is, having a seriously depressed pilot onboard clearly adds levels of risk that are unacceptable for most insurers and passengers.  Would I get into a car with a driver who I knew was considering wanting to die? Weighing disability rights against the rights of passengers to safety (which must be the paramount concern in flying) we need to say that serious depressive episodes, like active alcoholism and drug use, sadly place the pilot in a high-risk category, on the day of the flight.

This does not mean pilots should be removed forever or always from the cockpit, but clearly pilots who are drunk, on drugs, or thinking of suicide need to be kept at home and treated until they are well enough to return. Any company, indeed any institution, has a duty of care, both to its disabled employees, and its other customers and clients.  The right balance is therefore to properly support and enforce sick leave for depressed workers; and to also allow employees back to work when and if their treatment allows them to be well enough to no longer want to die.
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