After breaking her back at 53, battling breast cancer for 12 years, and enduring two hip replacements, Liz Holmes was in unbearable pain. All she wanted was the choice to die peacefully and without pain.
So, at 77, after texting her daughter Sharon to thank her for understanding, she took her own life saying, “You know I can’t do this existence anymore”.
‘I wanted to be there, but I couldn’t’
About six weeks prior to that day, Sharon knew her mum was going to take her own life and wanted to be with her when she died. But Sharon lived in the Northern Territory while her mum was in NSW.
“I suggested I come and see her and lie in her bed with her and hug her while she died,” Sharon said.
But in 2017 voluntary assisted dying (VAD) was still illegal in Australia and Liz was worried that Sharon could be charged with manslaughter if she was involved in any way.
“She was so concerned that if we were with her, we would be charged as an accessory to her death.”
Instead, up until the day her mum took her life, Sharon and her partner Spud would chat to Liz over the phone and share a glass of wine.
As the weeks progressed, Liz became even more resolute, determined that her children wouldn’t see her in the condition she was in.
“It was so, so difficult because I really wanted to be there, and I couldn’t. She wouldn’t let me,” Sharon said.
With great courage
In her last letter to loved ones, Liz wrote, “We should all be able to choose when we die, so with great courage and no cowardice I go to God. An act of love.”
According to Sharon, it’s this choice to die peacefully and without pain that is her mother’s legacy, as well as the reason she advocates for assisted dying to be legalised in the Northern Territory.
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‘You of all people can do it’
Since her mother’s death, Sharon has shared her story again and again. She’s visited politicians, written submissions, and appeared in the media, all in the hope of fulfilling her mum’s dying wish to see assisted dying legalised in the Northern Territory once again.
In 1996, the Northern Territory became the first place in the world to legalise voluntary euthanasia, but the law lasted just nine months before the Commonwealth overturned it. It wasn’t until late 2022, after decades of fighting, that the Restoring Territory Rights Bill passed the federal parliament and returned to the territories the right to debate VAD again.
The ACT moved quickly and began community consultation in February of this year with plans to draft legislation by the middle of 2023.The Northern Territory, on the other hand, has said that voluntary assisted dying legislation will not be a priority before the 2024 election.
For Sharon and her family, further delays should not be negotiable.
“As Northern Territory residents I believe we should have the same rights as everybody else in Australia, and we don’t right now,” Sharon says.
“This is not about politics, this is about people’s rights.”