“The duty of confidentiality is not the problem in cases where patients endanger others,” Rainer Richter said.
“Doctors and psychotherapists are already allowed to break confidentiality if they can prevent harm to third parties. In cases of life and death, they're obliged to.”
Debate has been raging among politicians and civil society representatives in Germany ever since the crash on March 24th, apparently a deliberate act at the hands of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz.
It has since been revealed that Lubitz suffered from depression and was being treated by doctors in the weeks before the fatal flight, in which 149 other people died.
According to Richter, it's “fundamentally difficult to reliably recognize in a person the intention to harm themselves and especially others and to evaluate its seriousness”.
Lubitz's history of depression dating to several years ago would not have been enough to predict a later danger of suicide, he added.
Pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit also pronounced itself against an exemption to doctor-patient confidentiality for pilots.
President Ilja Schulz told the Rheinische Post that “if my doctor is unbound from confidentiality, I won't tell him about my problems, because there will always be the fear of losing my pilot's license.
“With confidentiality, on the other hand, the doctor can offer real help.”
The pilots and psychologists were countered by employers' federation BDA, whose labour law expert Thomas Prinz called for special rules for those whose jobs involve others' safety.
“If employees who work in safety-sensitive areas have pschological problems, then an independent state body should know about it,” he told the Tagesspiegel.
Politicians from Germany's governing coalition were largely against the plan, with Social Democratic Party (SPD) MP Karl Lauterbach telling the Handelsblatt that “doctors can already inform employers... if they fear a risk to others' life and limb from a patient.”
His Christian Democratic Union (CDU) counterpart Jens Spahn told the Rheinische Post that “doctor-patient confidentiality is of very great value... I can only warn against going off half-cocked based on speculative assumptions.”