Oklahoma officials have voted to bring back a decades-old method of execution amid concerns over lethal injection failures. The Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to authorize death by “nitrogen hypoxia,” which could be performed in a gas chamber.
The Associated Press reports that the authorization of use of the gas chamber comes after growing concerns that Oklahoma’s primary method of execution, legal injection, may be deemed unconstitutional following a previous botched execution. In addition to concerns over the constitutionality, legislators are also concerned about the potential of the drugs used for lethal injection becoming unavailable.
“The case, which was sparked by a botched execution last spring, centers on whether the sedative midazolam properly renders an inmate unconscious before the second and third drugs are administered. Oklahoma officials concede midazolam is not the preferred drug for executions, but death penalty states have been forced to explore alternatives as manufacturers of more effective drugs refuse to sell them for use in lethal injections.”
As the law currently stands, if lethal injection be deemed unconstitutional or become unavailable, death by electrocution would be the default execution method followed by firing squad. If the “nitrogen hypoxia” proposal is passed, nitrogen hypoxia would become the default method of execution in Oklahoma. The Daily Mail reports that nitrogen hypoxia causes death by depleting the supply of oxygen in the blood, similar to what a pilot would experience if he lost his oxygen supply at a high altitude.
Republican Senator Anthony Sykes, the chairman of the Senate committee, says that nitrogen hypoxia has been deemed the “most humane” method of execution, even by groups opposed to execution. Sykes also notes that the death row inmate may even have a euphoric experience prior to expiring.
“It is a method that has been recognized as the most humane by those who oppose the death penalty. The people who have experienced it to the point of unconsciousness said it was a euphoric feeling. I’d say it’s more humane.”
In addition to the Senate bill that passed 9-0, a similar House bill also passed 7-2. There is one concern that some legislators have with the new method of execution: a gas chamber would cost roughly $300,000 to construct. However, Representative Mike Christian, a former highway patrolman who wrote the House bill, says a gas chamber is not necessary as a mask or “bag over the inmate’s head” could work just as well.
What do you think about Oklahoma bringing back the gas chamber as a method of execution? What about execution via a gas mask or bag over an inmate’s head filled with nitrogen?