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Phillip Hughes’ death heightens awareness of the value of life

Mark Reidy
Mark Reidy
Mark Reidy is a Catholic writer and freelance journalist who divides his time between writing and working with the poor and homeless on the streets of Perth, Western Australia, where he lives with his wife and children.

Amid all that has followed the death of cricketer Phillip Hughes some hope may appear that greater numbers of people will come to an increased appreciation of the value of human life.

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Phillip’s commitment to his sport was impressive; dominated by him being the youngest player to score centuries in both innings of what was only his second Test appearance in a match against South Africa in 2009 when aged just 20.

Delivering so early on the promise that enticed him from his home on the NSW mid-north coast to a leading Sydney grade cricket side three years earlier brought pressures to maintain a top spot but observers say he kept a balanced outlook, was enthusiastic and cheerful, and seemed to accept that his best days may have been still to come.

That future ended after a bouncer hit the left side of his neck at the SCG on 25 November and he died two days later.

He was just short of turning 26 and that youth combined with his sporting prowess to trigger an outpouring of grief from people in many nations stunned by the comparatively unusual nature of his death.

In the same week that he was fatally injured, raising many questions about a young life cut so short, reports on the deaths of others were largely ignored.

Work tabled in Federal Parliament by the National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, on the day Phillip died revealed that at least one child commits suicide in Australia each week and more than 50 others are hospitalised after trying to kill themselves.

No one wants to take anything away from the mourning over the loss of an outstanding young cricketer, but we could surely question how many other talents across any number of areas are likely being lost amid these statistics. And what of the sadness that so many others then face without solace being shared by a broader community?

Commissioner Mitchell found that youth suicide risks peak around the ages of 14 or 15 and she pointed to drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems and domestic violence as risk factors, warning that such deaths occurred at even younger ages among indigenous children.

Her report called for additional research into the impact of social media on the psychological well-being of young people, saying they should be taught “coping skills”.

We are regarded as slipping further into old age when we compare present conditions with those of the past, but youth suicide appears a greater problem now than in the past – even if it wasn’t given such a public airing in those times.

Commentary by a newspaper columnist earlier in the week we lost Phillip Hughes had already questioned how our society sees human life; this time examining aspects of facing problems in our later days seen as impacting against what should be our most valued possession.

The writer noted that state-assisted suicide or euthanasia has been legalised in Europe and some countries no longer sanctioned it merely to end sufferings of the terminally ill but rather “feeling ‘tired of life’ is sufficient justification for receiving life-ending medication from the state”.

The work by Brendan O’Neill in The Weekend Australian (22-23 November) was refreshing for points he made about society’s misguided attempts to sanction what some call the right to die as being a form of liberty or an act of moral autonomy.

“Surely it is the ultimate obliteration of autonomy, the end of all freedom,” he wrote.

In the process of growing up, our elders and community leaders are meant to provide guidance. For example, Megan Mitchell’s report called for children to go to trustworthy people – relatives, teachers, sports coaches, or neighbours – to guide them through troubled times.

If their response is linked to sanctioning euthanasia, then brighter times and the value placed on so much that may be enjoyed in life will elude some of our young.

Perhaps the reaction to the sudden death of a sporting hero will generate greater focus on the positives around us, producing a lasting legacy from one life lived so well and not wishing to be lost.

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