To the editor: Neurologist Robert Sapolsky's interpretation of mental illness as purely biological leads him to exculpate Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz for killing 149 innocent victims. We can understand that Lubitz's depression may have caused so much psychic pain that his decision to end his life seemed to him the only escape from his torment. ("Mental illness made the Germanwings co-pilot a victim along with his passengers," op-ed, April 1)
Yet he must be held morally accountable for his decision to murder so many strangers. This action is not merely the result of "biology gone wrong."
Sapolsky states that it is immensely rare for depression to result in violence against others. As a psychiatrist with 45 years of experience, I dispute this point. Rage against the perceived unfairness of life is a common component of severe depression. This results in many tragic incidents in which a suicidal person acts on this rage by killing family members or random strangers.
In short, we should offer sympathy for people in so much pain that they kill themselves. But the decision to murder others can justly be characterized as evil and deserves society's maximum stigmatization.
Cyril Barnert, MD, Los Angeles
The writer is a retired clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA.
To the editor: I wish to thank Sapolsky for his moving description of clinical depression. I feel that this level of understanding and communication will help decrease the stigma and move this serious illness into the light.
Barry F. Chaitin, MD, Newport Beach
The writer is a professor and chair emeritus in UC Irvine's Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior.
To the editor: Sapolsky offers no solutions to what he claims to be a major illness that will afflict 1 in 6 humans at some point in their lives. We not only need to understand and accept depression as a disease, but also find effective ways to deal with the dangers of it.
Should Lubitz have been medicated and isolated from society? Should depressed people be precluded from certain professions such as flying? Should people suffering from depression be under close supervision while performing their work duties?
And how can Western societies take such precautions without infringing on political correctness?
Berta Graciano-Buchman, Beverly Hills
To the editor: There is a wrongly placed emphasis on depression. We all know people who suffer from the illness, but very few of them have the capacity to commit mass murder.
Evidently, Lubitz was a sociopathic individual who was willing to commit an incredibly heinous act. A sociopath often has no empathy for others; Lubitz exhibited such coldness by, according to the doomed plane's cockpit voice recorder, breathing normally as he and 149 other people descended into the French Alps.
Lubitz's depression was secondary to this, and he probably knew on some deeper level that he had no connection to others. We stigmatize countless people by calling what prompted Lubitz to kill 149 people "depression."
Harold Young, Beverly Hills
The writer is a licensed clinical social worker.