Nitrogen gas executions approved by Oklahoma House
Oklahoma City" Oklahoma would become the first US state to allow the execution of death row inmates using nitrogen gas under a bill overwhelmingly approved today by the House of Representatives.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where a similar measure passed a committee earlier this year with bipartisan support. Executions in Oklahoma are on hold while the US Supreme Court reviews the state's lethal injection method.
The investigation centers on whether the sedative midazolam properly renders an inmate unconscious before the second and third drugs are administered.
Oklahoma officials concede midazolam is not the preferred drug for executions, but death penalty states have been forced to explore alternatives as manufacturers of more effective drugs refuse to sell them for use in lethal injections.
Republican Rep. Mike Christian said numerous studies have been conducted on nitrogen hypoxia, which is similar to what pilots at high altitudes can encounter when oxygen supplies diminish. He described the method as humane, painless and easy to administer.
Under the bill, lethal injection would remain the state's first method of execution, but nitrogen gas would be used if it were declared unconstitutional or if the drugs became unavailable. Under current law, electrocution is the second alternative method, followed by firing squad.
Christian said there would be no need to construct a gas chamber and that the nitrogen could be administered inside a tent or through a secure mask worn by the inmate. He said the problem death penalty states are having securing lethal drugs would be alleviated with the purchase of a nitrogen generator, which would give prison officials an everlasting supply of the ingredient necessary to carry out executions.