Oklahoma officials announced a new state policy to use nitrogen in future executions Wednesday, becoming the first state to use gas the kill death row inmates.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin approved nitrogen gas executions in 2015, but the state has yet to put it into practice. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh announced Wednesday that nitrogen gas would be the state’s primary method for capital punishment once a procedural method has been finalized, KOCO News 5 reported.
Oklahoma began searching for a new way to kill when pharmaceutical companies began cutting the supply of lethal injection drugs, leading to a nationwide shortage. Nitrogen, on the other hand, is reportedly painless, causing a person to lose consciousness in 15 seconds, ending brain activity in 30 to 45 seconds, and stopping the heart in 2-3 minutes, according to Time magazine.
The gas induces hypoxia, which pilots say is virtually undetectable until you pass out because the nitrogen displaces the oxygen in your system. The process is different from asphyxiation so long as a person actually inhales the gas, but that qualifier was enough for some lawmakers to complain, arguing that death row inmates would hold their breath and struggle as they asphyxiate.
“What’s going to prevent someone from holding their breath and prolonging their execution?” Dr. Michael Weiden, a pulmonary expert at the NYU school of medicine told Time. “People are going to hold their breath as the oxygen leaks out of their bodies. They’ll struggle, and somebody who thinks that an individual who’s asphyxiating will not freak out without sedation is foolish.”
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