Alabama Prepares to Use Untried Execution Method

Alabama is set to use an untested method of execution by suffocating the inmate with nitrogen gas, a technique that even veterinarians refuse to use on animals.


Controversial Use of Nitrogen Gas

Alabama is planning to use nitrogen gas as the method of execution for Kenneth Eugene Smith, who is scheduled to be executed for the murder-for-hire of a pastor's wife in 1988. This method has never been used before in a capital punishment case and has been widely criticized by medical professionals, including veterinarians who reject its use on animals. The American Veterinary Medical Association, for example, has advised against using nitrogen gas as a way to euthanize mammals, calling it 'distressing.' The United Nations' Office of The High Commissioner for Human Rights has also expressed concerns that the untested method could amount to torture or other cruel treatment under international human rights law.

The Origins of the Nitrogen Gas Execution Plan

The use of nitrogen gas for executions was first discussed in 2015 in Oklahoma, when the state legislature authorized it as an alternative to lethal injections due to drug shortages. Former Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Christian, the brain behind the legislation, hailed the method as revolutionary and cost-effective. The idea gained traction, and now Alabama is planning to implement it for Smith's execution. However, experts have voiced doubts about the method's effectiveness and its potential for causing a cruel and inhumane death. Medical professionals have been hesitant to publicly support the use of nitrogen gas in executions, highlighting the lack of research and potential risks involved.

Concerns and Controversies Surrounding Nitrogen Gas Execution

Critics of the nitrogen gas execution method have raised several concerns. Dr. Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist, has called on Alabama to produce evidence demonstrating the method's lack of cruelty. He has also expressed worries about the visual impact such an execution could have on witnesses and the potential risks to others in the vicinity if a leak were to occur.

Despite assurances from supporters of the method, including Michael Copeland, a former professor who researched nitrogen gas as an execution method, the validity and safety of the approach remain in question. The lack of oxygen rather than the gas itself causes the problem, and precautions such as wearing an oximeter and ensuring proper ventilation are necessary. However, opponents argue that these precautions may not be sufficient to prevent harm or pain to the inmate.

The execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith using nitrogen gas is a significant test for Alabama and could set a precedent for other states considering alternative methods of execution. The debate over the use of nitrogen gas continues, with concerns about its constitutionality, ethics, and the potential risks involved.