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March 14, 2018

Oklahoma embracing nitrogen gas instead of lethal drugs as method of execution

Images (3)As detailed in this new CNN piece, headlined "Oklahoma plans to use new execution method," the Sooners are soon to be trying a novel execution protocol. Here are the details:

Unable to obtain drugs to use for its lethal injections, Oklahoma will use inert gas inhalation as the primary method for death penalty executions once a protocol is developed and finalized, the state's attorney general announced Wednesday. Oklahoma is the first state to adopt this method.

"As you know, in Oklahoma, a bill that was signed back in 2015 by the governor states that if lethal injection is held unconstitutional or is unavailable, an execution shall be carried out by nitrogen hypoxia," Attorney General Mike Hunter said. "We are exercising that option." Nitrogen is one of several inert gases that can cause hypoxia, an oxygen deficiency that causes death.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh said his office will prepare the legal documents within the next 90 to 120 days and, if that's acceptable, the attorney general will move forward with the protocol. Hunter said the state is "at the very beginning of this process ... and will provide updates as they become available."

Currently, 49 people sit on death row in Oklahoma; 16 have exhausted their ability to appeal their cases, Allbaugh said. The state has struggled to find legally obtainable lethal injection drugs, he said. It previously used a three-drug combination: an anesthetic (either sodium thiopental, pentobarbital or midazolam), a paralytic agent (pancuronium bromide) and a heart-stopping agent to cause death (potassium chloride), according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center....

The bipartisan Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission issued a study of the death penalty in the state on April 25. The report concluded that the moratorium should remain in place until significant reforms to the death penalty process are made, and recommended a one-drug barbiturate execution protocol.

But Hunter said inert gas inhalation is used in countries that have legalized assisted suicide. A 2010 Journal of Medical Ethics study, based on experiments performed by Swiss organization Dignitas, found that the dying process of oxygen deprivation caused by an inert gas is "potentially quick and appears painless." "It also bypasses the prescribing role of physicians, effectively demedicalizing assisted suicide," the researchers wrote.

Hunter said that "using an (inert gas inhalation) will be effective, simple to administer, easy to obtain and requires no complex medical procedures." "Research has shown that individuals exposed to an excessive amount of inert gas experience fatigue, dizziness, perhaps a headache, loss of breath and eventual loss of consciousness," he said, citing the US Air Force Flight Surgeon's Guide, which looks at cases of pilots breathing excessive amounts of inert gas.

Hunter said that people who die by inhalation of inert gases are dead within just a few minutes. The method is "safest, best and most effective," he said.

By contrast, the American Veterinary Medical Association's Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals recommend the use of nitrogen for chickens, turkeys and pigs but say it's unacceptable for other mammals. "These gases create an anoxic environment that is distressing for some species," the authors say.

Oklahoma re-enacted the death penalty in 1973 and, since 1976, has performed 112 executions. Hunter noted that an overwhelming majority of the Oklahoma electorate voted to amend the Constitution and guarantee the state's power to impose capital punishment two years ago.

March 14, 2018 at 07:43 PM | Permalink


"But Hunter said inert gas inhalation is used in countries that have legalized assisted suicide."

It just might be the case that voluntary use is different from involuntary use.

The discussion includes a policy statement of American Veterinary Medical Association's Guidelines that opposes it for cats and dogs. But, then again, we are dealing with humans on death row here. Some think more highly of the former.

Meanwhile, "The bipartisan Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission issued a study of the death penalty in the state on April 25. The report concluded that the moratorium should remain in place until significant reforms to the death penalty process are made, and recommended a one-drug barbiturate execution protocol."

It discusses the movement regarding nitrogen gas & seems to reject it for the time being because of lack of adequate information. IF we have a death penalty, there are those not inclined to support it as policy who think either nitrogen gas or the firing squad are the best approaches. It just might be that the best approach is simply not having the death penalty. At least, both dissents in Glossip seemed to have a good argument in hindsight.


Posted by: Joe | Mar 14, 2018 9:44:35 PM

I recall this proposal in the Comment section many times, for many years, and not by me. Is there a way to get government officials to read this cutting edge blog?

It is a circle. If you are afraid, your heart will beat fast. If your heart beats fast, you will be afraid. To make it fast, one should suck the oxygen from the lungs fast. I once had a coughing fit. I found myself on my back, still in my seat, facing the ceiling, not knowing how long I was unconscious. I had no awareness of getting unconscious. It was instantaneous.

I eventually completely solved my coughing and nasal dripping problem with a simple solution, a humidifier. I would like to get that remedy to Hillary Clinton, to help her, not to hurt her. If anyone can tell me how to communicate with her about her incessant coughing, I would appreciate it.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 15, 2018 5:52:08 AM

Describing a method of killing people as "safest" strikes me as peak absurdity.

Posted by: Guy Hamilton-Smith | Mar 15, 2018 9:04:05 AM

"Describing a method of killing people as "safest" strikes me as peak absurdity."

Realistically, we are going to have to kill people in certain contexts & reducing the problems as much as possible there is a reasonable approach. "Safe sex" means "safer sex" since there is always a chance of some problem arising.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 15, 2018 11:37:53 AM

Guy Hamilton,

Safe for everyone else is not at all absurd. Old-style poison gas has the problem of needing extreme care to not expose the execution staff and witnesses. The firing squad has a risk of ricochet and hanging has a (admittedly far-fetched) risk of falling through the trap . Even lethal injection has the possibility of coming into contact with blood.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 15, 2018 11:48:53 AM

For the past several years, attorneys representing death row have argued that inert gas is a better option than lethal injections. See http://media.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/18/03/173052P.pdf. Now that one state is seriously considering that option, in what has to be considered the biggest non-surprise of the year, we are going to start to see arguments about why inert gas is cruel and unusual punishment.

Posted by: tmm | Mar 15, 2018 4:27:29 PM

Any deliberate killing of another human being is cruel and unusual or we would all be doing it. The State has no more excuse than a murderer. What the Constitution might or may not say about it is irrelevant. If we condemn a murderer for his disrespect for the life of his victim and then condemn him in turn to suffer the same fate, which disrespects his life similarly - then we have committed an equally cruel and unusual act - for which there is no excuse as alternative punishments are available. The means of killing may make the act all the more cruel and is a valid argument to make, but the final moral position is that we SHOULD NOT KILL.

Posted by: peter | Mar 15, 2018 5:05:57 PM

"the biggest non-surprise of the year"

Such would be true, for both sides, in a range of cases. All sides repeatedly cite alternatives that they deep down are not crazy about, but to show that changing the current policy is possible. They often don't like any form of the policy. At times, the alternative actually is better, but that still doesn't mean it is good enough.

And, obviously, the defense attorney will try to use whatever reasonable means possible to save the life, liberty and property of the client. This is a respectable thing and when sex crimes are involved seems to get consistent support on this blog. Meanwhile, the state repeatedly will push for something, such as less habeas protections. It will often not swing for the fences but go for one step. If that step is reached, it will not surprise if the state will push for more the next time.

Maybe, tmm is aware of this, and just left it unsaid. So, I said it.


The moral position is "thou shall not murder." Or, "thou shall not kill unjustly." Killing in self-defense is not immoral. All things considered, however, I don't think the death penalty is a valid self-defense mechanism.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 15, 2018 6:27:03 PM

I reject morality in its entirety. Ethics on the other hand is another story, the former is imposed while the latter is arrived at. I do not believe self-defense is the only ethical reason for killing.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 15, 2018 11:40:28 PM

I hope this takes the whole "painful death" thing off the table.

As an aside, there is one painless way to die -- a sufficiently large explosion right next to you would do the trick.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Mar 16, 2018 5:23:43 AM

Joe. Murder is the unlawful homicide. A death penalty law does not result in murder. It results in an execution.

The safety referred to is safety from endless and expensive lawyer appeals.

Once the public decides to revive the death penalty in a real way, it should start with the rounding up of the 25000 people in the lawyer hierarchy, one hour fair trials, and summary execution in the court basement. Shoot these traitors in insurrection against our constitution in the head.

Posted by: David Behar | Mar 16, 2018 11:21:07 AM

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