Why Recent US Nitrogen Gas Execution Has Ignited Debate

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Execution by Nitrogen Gas: A New Development

According to the latest updates from our own Reader Wall news source, the US state of Alabama has conducted an execution using nitrogen gas. This is the first-of-its-kind application of this method, making a shift from the traditional lethal injection used commonly across the United States. The convict sentenced to death was Kenneth Eugene Smith, and the execution took place at Holman Prison via nitrogen hypoxia, leading to suffocation.

Methodology: Nitrogen Gas Execution

In an execution using nitrogen gas, the convicted person is enclosed inside a completely sealed chamber. As increasing amounts of nitrogen gas enter the chamber, it progressively replaces the existing oxygen. As the individual breathes in more and more nitrogen, and progressively less oxygen, unconsciousness and then death is caused. Kenneth Eugene Smith’s execution, which took approximately 22 minutes, included observable periods of consciousness, physical struggle, and heavy breathing.

Nitrogen Gas: A Potential Killer

Despite making up about 78% of the air we breathe under normal conditions, nitrogen can be deadly when inhaled in an environment lacking sufficient oxygen. However, the method of execution using nitrogen gas has been widely criticised for several reasons:

  • Critics often liken nitrogen hypoxia to forms of human experimentation, calling attention to the ethical issues surrounding an untrialled method.
  • Concerns have been expressed about the potential lack of airtightness in the execution mask, which could permit oxygen to penetrate and slow down execution, potentially leading to extended suffering or a vegetative state.
  • The risk of choking as a consequence of vomiting inside the mask due to oxygen deprivation complicates the execution process.
  • Several observers have expressed worries about the invisibility and lack of smell of nitrogen gas, which could pose detection problems for individuals present in the execution chamber, particularly if the execution mask is displaced.
  • Its limited use and testing to date have also sparked concerns over reliability and potential errors during the execution process.

Tragic incidents have happened as a result of unintended exposure to nitrogen like the incident at a chicken factory in Gainesville (Georgia, 2021) where a nitrogen leak led to the deaths of six workers.

International Reaction

The United Nations has openly criticised the use of nitrogen hypoxia in executions, specifically in Alabama. Pointing to potential violations of international laws governing torture and inhumane treatment, they also took issue with the lack of sedative administration prior to execution, a protocol typically observed in animal euthanasia. The concerns raised were further heightened by the high degree of redaction in the publicly available documents about the execution, thereby concealing key information about standard safety measures and testing procedures.

Adoptation of Nitrogen Gas Execution

Alabama now joins Oklahoma and Mississippi in being the only three US states where nitrogen hypoxia has been officially approved as an alternative to the conventional methods of execution.

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