Oklahoma Says It Will Use Nitrogen Gas in Executions

Oklahoma Says It Will Use Nitrogen Gas in Executions

Oklahoma’s announcement follows years of national turmoil about execution drugs, including pitched legal battles and resistance from pharmaceutical companies that have questioned whether their products should be used in death chambers.

The scramble for drugs has caused some states to consider unusual or antiquated ways of putting inmates to death.

In 2014, Tennessee authorized prison officials to use the electric chair if lethal injection drugs were unavailable. Gov. Gary R. Herbert of Utah signed a bill into law in 2015 approving firing squads when drugs could not be obtained.

Some of the most recent disputes have turned on the drug midazolam, which was part of the cocktail that Oklahoma used for the botched execution of an inmate, Clayton Lockett, in 2014. Mr. Lockett began to writhe and gasp after he had already been declared unconscious, and called out, “Oh, man,” according to witnesses. He later died in the death chamber of a heart attack.

Midazolam, a benzodiazepine, was developed in the 1970s and became one of the world’s most commonly used sedatives; it is used to make a prisoner unconscious and limit pain.

The debate over lethal injection, which prompted court cases, execution delays and struggles to obtain drugs, led Oklahoma in 2015 to make nitrogen gas its backup execution method in instances when lethal injection could not be used. The last inmate to be executed in Oklahoma was Charles Frederick Warner, in January 2015.

At the news conference in Oklahoma on Wednesday, officials did not discuss the use of sedatives, but said they had not yet determined a protocol in which to carry out executions with nitrogen.

Death penalty policy experts said that if a federal court approved the method, it would take at least six months — and probably longer — for such an execution to be carried out.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes the death penalty, called the potential use of nitrogen in capital cases “an experimentation” that would likely cause suffering.

Oklahoma officials said they had chosen nitrogen in part because it is often used in places where assisted suicide is legal. But Mr. Dunham said that a morbidly ill person voluntarily dying with the aid of sedatives and surrounded by loved ones, and an inmate being put to death against his or her will, were hardly comparable.

“There is a significant difference between when someone is seeking to terminate their own life — and they are not struggling and are willfully participating — and what happens when you involuntarily seek to terminate the life of someone who wants to live, and who will be struggling and trying not to breathe,” Mr. Dunham said.

Mr. Hunter, the attorney general, said studies described those who had been exposed to “excessive amounts” of inert gas as feeling “fatigue, dizziness, perhaps a headache, loss of breath and eventual loss of consciousness.”

He added: “If oxygen does not displace the inert gas within the individual’s system, in just a few minutes, death will occur. This is the safest, the best and the most effective method available and we’re moving forward.”

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Source link : https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/14/us/oklahoma-nitrogen-executions.html
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Publish date : 2018-03-14 22:44:56
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