Oklahoma lawmakers have passed a bill that would make the state the first in the nation to allow the use of nitrogen gas as a back-up method to execute death-row prisoners. It’s unclear if Governor Mary Fallin (R) will sign the bill into law.
When gas chambers were used previously in executions prisoners
were asphyxiated using cyanide and there were reports of
The use of nitrogen gas for executions would be novel and
experimental. The bill, HB 1879, was approved in a 41-0 ballot
and had already passed the House in March. The bill’s sponsor,
Rep. Mike Christian (R), read about the nitrogen gas method in a
2014 Slate article.
“If Oklahoma is a state that does executions, we can find a
better, humane way to carry them out,” Christian
told the Huffington Post in March when the House passed the
Christian says that unlike traditional gas chambers that used
drugs like cyanide, which cause a build-up of carbon dioxide in
the blood, breathing nitrogen would be a painless death because
it leads to hypoxia – a gradual lack of oxygen in the blood,
similar to what can happen to pilots at high altitudes.
— The Takeaway (@TheTakeaway) March
Execution via ‘nitrogen hypoxia’ is a method advanced in
the National Law Review paper in 2005 by Stuart A. Creque, which
is seemingly based on the fatal outcomes of chemical accidents
involving nitrogen. There do not seem to be any instances of
nitrogen having being used in executions to date.
The measure, if signed into law, would reinstate the gas chamber
as a backup execution method to lethal injection. The state’s
third execution method is death by firing squad, an option also
introduced by Christian in 2014.
Three other states use the gas chamber as an alternative to
lethal injection – Arizona, California and Mississippi – though
they do not list nitrogen gas as the lethal chemical.
The search for alternative execution methods comes during an
upheaval in the manufacture of the drugs. A decade-old ban in the
European Union prohibits EU nations from exporting execution
drugs, and the subsequent shortage that it has spawned in the US
has prompted prison officials to seek out compounding pharmacists
to mix and develop new sorts of lethal injection cocktails.
Three executions remain on hold in Oklahoma as the state’s
three-drug cocktail is under review with the Supreme Court, which
will determine whether the policy violates the Eighth Amendment’s
protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit was
brought by four inmates, one of whom was subsequently executed in
January. Before his death, Charles Warner declared that his “body
was on fire” and “no one should go through this.” His death from
lethal injection took 18 minutes.
“It just goes to show you how hell-bent they are on killing
people,” Richard Glossip, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which
will be heard by the US Supreme Court later this month, told the
Huffington Post. “If they can gas them, use lethal injection
— it should really scare everyone out there that they’re so bent