As US states look for alternatives to lethal injection Oklahoma is on the verge of becoming the 1st to allow for asphyxiating death row inmates
Oklahoma is moving forward with plans to become the first US state to allow executions using nitrogen gas after being inspired by a BBC documentary in which Michael Portillo suggested it was the most painless way to implement capital punishment.
States where the death penalty is imposed are scrambling for alternative methods as pharmacies that provide drugs for lethal injection increasingly refuse to do so on ethical grounds.
Later this week Oklahoma's Senate will vote on allowing death by "nitrogen hypoxia". The proposal has already been approved by a large majority in its lower house and it would become the state's first back-up option if lethal injection drugs run out.
Mike Christian, the Republican state politician behind the plan, has said his opinion on using nitrogen was "solidified" after he saw a 2008 BBC Horizon documentary called How to Kill a Human Being in which Michael Portillo, the former British Cabinet minister, searched for the most humane execution option.
In the film Mr Portillo, who as an MP voted both for and against the death penalty, said: "After some investigation I think I've come up with a perfect killing device, an entirely humane way of killing a prisoner who is under sentence of death. It's nitrogen, which renders him at first euphoric, and then makes him unconscious pretty quickly and he dies entirely without pain."
Mr Christian said recently: "I believe it's revolutionary. It's probably the best thing we've come up with since the start of executing people by government. You can pick up nitrogen anywhere they use it. Industrially, you can pick it up at a welding supply company."
Condemned prisoners would be asphyxiated by putting a mask on them which would be used to replace oxygen with inert nitrogen. Supporters say the person would experience brief euphoria, lose consciousness after about 10 seconds, and their heart would stop beating within 2 minutes. According to Amnesty International no US state has ever used nitrogen gas to execute an inmate and it had no reports of the method being used in other countries.
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Oklahoma, said: "We would be experimenting on the condemned using a process that has been banned in many states for the euthanasia of animals."
In Oklahoma, where three people were scheduled to die next month, executions are already on hold following a botched lethal injection last year. Clayton Lockett, convicted of murder, took 43 minutes to die.
The US Supreme Court is reviewing the state's lethal injection procedures after remaining death row inmates claimed they were inhumane.
Earlier this week Utah approved the firing squad as its back-up method if it runs out of lethal injection drugs.
Source: The Telegraph, March 27, 2015
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