Oklahoma Lawmakers Eyeing New Execution Method: Nitrogen Gas
A gas chamber on site at the former Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. Associated Press
In the wake of numerous problems with lethal injection as an execution method, states have increasingly considered bringing back methods that were long ago sent to the scrap heap.
For instance, Tennessee last year passed a law to allow the state to use the electric chair, in the event that lethal-injection becomes unworkable. Utah and Wyoming are each considering proposals that would restore the firing squad if lethal drugs can't be obtained.
Now Oklahoma has joined the game, albeit with a twist. Two Republican lawmakers in the Sooner State have proposed separate bills that would bring back the gas chamber, albeit with a new drug -- nitrogen.
According to the AP:
Two separate bills scheduled for hearings this week in legislative committees would make death by "nitrogen hypoxia" a backup method of execution if the state's current lethal injection process is found to be unconstitutional.
"You wouldn't need a medical doctor to do it. It's a lot more practical. It's efficient," said Rep. Mike Christian, an Oklahoma City Republican and former Oklahoma Highway patrolman who conducted a hearing last summer on hypoxia, or the depletion of oxygen in the bloodstream. . . .
Traditional gas chambers used hydrogen cyanide, a drug that in some instances caused pain and extreme anxiety, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an organization largely opposed to the way the death penalty is administered in the U.S.
But the use of nitrogen might sidestep these problems, according to supporters.
Christian said unlike traditional gas chambers that used drugs like cyanide that caused a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood, breathing nitrogen would be painless because it leads to hypoxia, a gradual lack of oxygen in the blood, similar to what can happen to pilots at high altitudes.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, four states currently allow the use of lethal gas, but all have lethal injection as the primary method. The last execution-by-gas took place in Arizona in 1999.
The Supreme Court last month said it would examine Oklahoma's lethal-injection protocol. Among other issues, the court will examine whether Oklahoma's drug protocol--a new formula the state adopted after a bungled execution in April 2014 --complies with the constitutional prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishments." http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2015/02/10/oklahoma-lawmakers-eyeing-new-execution-method-nitrogen-gas/