Symptoms of Dehydration

As a person dies from lack of food and fluids, his or her
  • Mouth dries out and become caked or coated with thick material
  • Lips become parched and cracked
  • Tongue swells, and might crack
  • Eyes recede back into their sockets
  • Cheeks become hollow
  • Lining of the nose might crack and cause the nose to bleed
  • Skin hangs loose on the body and becomes dry and scaly
  • Urine becomes highly concentrated, leading to burning of the bladder
  • Lining of the stomach dries out and he or she experiences dry heaves and vomiting
  • Body temperature becomes elevated
  • Brain cells dry out, causing convulsions
  • Respiratory tract dries out, and the resulting thick secretions can plug the lungs and cause death
At some point within five days to three weeks, the person's major organs, including the lungs, heart, and brain, fail and death occurs. 1

Terry Schiavo
Terry Schiavo died in March 2005 after the court ordered her food and water be withdrawn. Dr. David Stevens, the head of the Christian Medical Association in America, addressed the pain of Terry Schiavo dying from starvation and dehydration:
"Is dying of thirst and dehydration a painless death as some experts have asserted? Most so-called experts have never seen someone die in this manner. Unfortunately, having worked for 13 years in Africa, where the most common cause of death in children is dehydration from gastroenteritis, I have seen hundreds if not thousands of patients with dehydration and some of them so far gone, that despite resuscitation attempts, they died.

As dehydration begins, there is extreme thirst, dry mouth and thick saliva," Dr. Stevens explained. "The patient becomes dizzy, faint and unable to stand or sit; has severe cramping in the arms and legs as the sodium and potassium concentrations in the body go up as fluids go down. In misery, the patient tries to cry but there are no tears. The patient experiences severe abdominal cramps, nausea and dry-heaving as the stomach and intestines dry out.

By now the skin and lips are cracking and the tongue is swollen," Dr. Stevens continued. "The nose may bleed as the mucous membranes dry out and break down. The skin loses elasticity, thins and wrinkles. The hands and feet become cold as the remaining fluids in the circulatory system are shunted to the vital organs in an attempt to stay alive. The person stops urinating and has severe headaches as their brain shrinks from lack of fluids. The patient becomes anxious and gets progressively more lethargic.

Some patients have hallucinations and seizures as their body chemistry becomes even more imbalanced. This proceeds to coma before death occurs. The final event as the blood pressure becomes almost undetectable is a major heart arrhythmia that stops the heart from pumping.

Contrary to those that try to paint a picture of a gentle process, death by dehydration is a cruel, inhumane and often agonizing death."
Dr. Helga Kuhse, a leading campaigner for euthanasia, said in 1984: "If we can get people to accept the removal of all treatment and care - especially the removal of food and fluids - they will see what a painful way this is to die and then, in the patient's best interest, they will accept the lethal injection." 2

  1. Brophy v. New England Sinai Hosp., 398 Mass. 417, 444 n.2, 497 N.E.2d 626, 641 n.2 (1986) (Nolan, J., dissenting)
  2. Fifth Biennial Congress of Societies for the Right to Die, held in Nice, Sept. 1984