Oklahoma Debates Death by Nitrogen for Inmates

Rep. Mike Christian: executions with nitrogen gas deplete oxygen, are painless
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 10, 2015 10:59 AM CST
Oklahoma Debates Death by Nitrogen for Inmates
In this Oct. 9, 2014, file photo, Department of Corrections officials are pictured outside the newly renovated death chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla.   (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Tennessee has brought back the electric chair; Utah's considering reviving the firing squad. Now Oklahoma Republicans are making a push to build a $300,000 gas chamber in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, using nitrogen gas as a backup plan to lethal injection in executions, the AP reports. The move comes as the state awaits a Supreme Court decision on Oklahoma's previous three-drug execution mix (which includes midazolam), which was involved in Clayton Lockett's botched injection last year. Rep. Mike Christian explains to the AP that nitrogen gas would be a painless execution, as it simply leads to hypoxia (lack of oxygen in the bloodstream), akin to a pilot losing consciousness at high altitudes. "You wouldn't need a medical doctor to do it," Christian says. "It's a lot more practical. It's efficient."

Arizona, California, Missouri, and Wyoming are the only states that currently permit gas executions, though they still use lethal injection as the primary method; no state has ever used nitrogen gas (cyanide is a traditional gas chamber drug). The two current backup methods allowed under Oklahoma law are the electric chair and firing squad, though Christian is considering lobbying for an end to the chair. The two bills that would make the gas chamber the new preferred backup plan if lethal injection is found to be unconstitutional are set for Oklahoma legislative hearings this week, though a spokesman for the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty thinks pols are going about the issue the wrong way. "We're scrambling around trying to figure out humane ways to kill someone," he says. "There isn't a right way to do the wrong thing." (About 20% of Americans are all for bringing back the gas chamber.)

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