The death of Terri Schiavo, who died after being in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, was met with an outpouring of grief in the US tonight.
A Vatican cardinal denounced her death as “an attack against God”.
President George Bush, who personally intervened in an attempt to prolong her life, said he joined millions of Americans saddened by the news.
“The essence of civilisation is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak,” he said.
“In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in favour of life.”
Mrs Schiavo died after 13 days without food or water. She had been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years before her feeding tube was removed on March 18.
The political and legal battle between her Catholic parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and husband Michael, became the longest right to life case in US history.
Mr Schiavo insisted his wife lacked all mental capacity and had told him she never wanted to be kept alive artificially.
President Bush praised the Schindlers for their “display of grace and dignity” as they fought a string of losing battles to keep their daughter alive.
Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican’s office for sainthood, said: “An attack against life is an attack against God, who is the author of life.”
When Mrs Schiavo’s death was announced to protesters outside her Florida hospice, it was met with gasps and cries. Many prayed aloud and sang hymns.
The bitter family feud over Mrs Schiavo’s right to life had evolved into an unprecedented political battle.
The 41-year-old died as police monitored protests from the Florida hospice roof, patrol cars blocked every entrance and uniformed officers patrolled the grounds.
Father Paul O’Donnell, a spokesman for the Schindlers, said they had been denied access to Mrs Schiavo when she died.
As her legal guardian, Mr Schiavo, controlled the visits. It is understood he was with her in her final minutes.
Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who championed the Schindler’s cause, described her death as “heartbreaking”.
“This was a very, very emotional couple of weeks,” he said. “I would hope that from this, all of us can grow as people in terms of appreciation of life issues.”
The epic family clash, which gripped the US and much of the world, ended as bitterly as it began.
Mr Schiavo has made arrangements for his wife to be cremated and her ashes buried at his family’s plot in Pennsylvania.
The Schindlers, who wanted their daughter to have a Catholic funeral service and to be buried near their home in Clearwater, Florida, consider it one final, painful assault on her rights.
Mrs Schiavo was brain-damaged in 1990 when her brain was briefly starved of oxygen due to a chemical imbalance.