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Pilots' union Cockpit wary of changing doctors' rules in wake of Germanwings crash

A German pilots' trade union has warned against changing confidentiality rules for doctors, saying such a change might stop pilots from seeking medical assistance, and could prevent doctors from "offering real help."

Ilja Schulz, president of the Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) pilots' union, told the Tuesday edition of the Rheinische Post newspaper that he would not necessarily support new rules on doctors' confidentiality. He said such a suggestion could only come from people unfamiliar with the industry, saying a doctor could only "offer real help" to pilots when sworn to secrecy.

"If my doctor were relieved of this obligation to confidentiality, I might not discuss any problems with him, because these fears over my license would resonate," Schulz told the Rheinische Post.

Germanwings Frankreich Absturz Helfer Bergung

Rescue workers have warned that it could take four months to find people's remains at the crash site

Last week's Germanwings plane crash prompted public debate about German and international rules for doctors and other medical officials, especially whether they should remain obligated to secrecy when treating airline pilots.

Several medical officials also warned against hasty changes, pointing out how German doctors and psychotherapists are already legally obliged to break their silence if they suspect a patient plans "a particularly serious crime" or could endanger the lives of other people.

According to Rainer Richter, president of Germany's association of psychotherapists, interviewed by German news agency DPA on Tuesday, the real problem remained "the fundamental difficulty of reliably recognizing and then evaluating the seriousness of a person's intent to harm themselves, and especially to harm third parties."

Prosecutors: Lubitz was once suicidal

Public prosecutors in Düsseldorf announced on Monday that Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot believed to have intentionally crashed a Germanwings airliner into the Alps last Tuesday,

had been treated for "suicidal tendencies" in the past

, prior to receiving his pilot's license and starting work for Germanwings in 2013.

Andreas Lubitz Germanwings Pilot NEU

Details of Lubitz's medical history have prompted a debate on patient confidentiality

"Several years ago, before obtaining's his pilot's license, the co-pilot was in a long period of psychotherapeutic treatment with noticeable suicidal tendencies," said the prosecutors' office in Düsseldorf, the city where Lubitz lived and where Flight 4U 9525 was headed.

"In the ensuing years and up until recently, he had doctors' visits and was written off sick, but showed no sign of suicidal tendencies or aggression towards others," chief prosecutor Ralf Herrenbrück told reporters on Monday.

Germanwings parent company Lufthansa is yet to comment publicly on how much it knew about Lubitz's medical history, saying the same rules on protecting the pilot's privacy applied to it as an employer at this stage. Commercial pilots undergo regular physical and pyschological evaluations.

Herrenbrück stressed that his team had not yet identified a possible motive for Lubitz to crash the plane, also saying that they had found no evidence of a "physical illness" afflicting the 27-year-old.

Lubitz is known to have visited the university hospital in Düsseldorf, most recently on March 10, seeking a diagnosis - but no further details are yet confirmed. The hospital on Monday said that it had forwarded all its data on Lubitz to Herrenbrück's team of investigators.

Investigators had also announced on Friday that Lubitz had a doctor's note excusing him from work on the day of the crash in his apartment. The note was found ripped up; prosecutors believe it was never submitted to Germanwings or parent company Lufthansa.

Rescue efforts continued at

the remote crash site in the French Alps

on Monday, with workers warning that it could take up to four months to recover and identify people's remains.

msh/bk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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