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Crime United States Technology

Oklahoma Says It Will Now Use Nitrogen Gas As Its Backup Method of Execution 591

schwit1 writes Yesterday, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin signed into law a bill that approves the use of nitrogen gas for executions in the state. The method, which would effectively asphyxiate death row inmates by forcing them to breathe pure nitrogen through a gas mask, is meant to be the primary alternative to lethal injection, the Washington Post reports.

Fallin and other supporters of the procedure say it's pain-free and effective, noting that the nitrogen would render inmates unconscious within ten seconds and kill them in minutes. It's also cheap: state representatives say the method only requires a nitrogen tank and a gas mask, but financial analysts say its impossible to give precise figures, the Post reports.

Oklahoma's primary execution method is still lethal injection, but the state's procedure is currently under review by the Supreme Court. Earlier this week, Tennessee suspended executions statewide following challenges to its own lethal injection protocol.
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Oklahoma Says It Will Now Use Nitrogen Gas As Its Backup Method of Execution

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  • Idiotic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:24PM (#49506731)

    We kill people because they kill people. So who kills the people who kill people because they killed people when we find out they didn't actually kill anyone?

    • Re:Idiotic (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @09:29PM (#49507621)

      It is also illegal to kidnap people and hold them against their will.

      So what do you do to someone that kidnapped people and held them against their will?

      Throw them in prison where you'll forcibly imprison them in a place they don't want to be.

      Your citation of hypocrisy makes no logical sense. Wouldn't taxation be stealing under your logic? After all, you are compelled by force to give money you don't want to give them in many cases.

      So on and so forth.

      Executions are not murder. Why? There was a trial. Same reason imprisonment isn't kidnapping. There was a trial.

      If you conflate an execution with a murder then you are suggesting that the trial had no meaning and if it trials have no meaning then every official government action through the courts is no different from when anyone just grabs someone and does the same thing to them.

      Either you admit your error or you're effectively advocating anarchy. At which point there is no law. We'd live in some mad max post apocalyptic hell hole in a week if we followed this to its logical conclusion.

      • Your argument is OK as far as it goes. But I believe the OP did make a point, while kind of vague, about asking who executes who if you execute an innocent man? It has happened more than once in the past. And we constantly see people exonerated who were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death after a trial. So who do we execute if the trial finds that an innocent person should be executed and it happens? Do we execute the jury? The judge? The police? The prosecutor? The defense? Any of them? None

      • Re:Idiotic (Score:4, Insightful)

        by binarstu ( 720435 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @01:32AM (#49508485)

        Either you admit your error or you're effectively advocating anarchy. At which point there is no law. We'd live in some mad max post apocalyptic hell hole in a week if we followed this to its logical conclusion.

        That is a great example of the slippery slope logical fallacy [wikipedia.org]. So in your view, if we (i.e., our society) were to reject the death penalty because we decide it is immoral and hypocritical, then the only logically consistent position is to reject all law entirely, which will lead to the inevitable consequence of a lawless, anarchic society.

        In case the absurdity of that is not obvious, consider this: The European Union summarily rejects capital punishment [europa.eu] as "cruel and inhuman". In other words, as an instrument of justice, it is immoral and cannot ever be justified, no matter how heinous an offender's crimes. Guided by this premise, many EU states have banned capital punishment for decades [wikipedia.org]. Yet, in no case has this led to a subsequent total rejection of the rule of law, and it doesn't appear that any of these countries are on the brink of anarchy.

        Your entire argument rests squarely on the unstated assumption that the purpose of the criminal justice system is tit for tat revenge. You might see it that way, but many of us do not. Take away that assumption, and there is no logical conflict at all with rejecting the death penalty because it is inhumane and hypocritical while also supporting a functional justice system with the power to enforce laws and impose penalties.

        Sure, a simple statement like "killing people is illegal, ergo the state is hypocritical if it kills people" is not very insightful. But if one accepts the notion that state-sanctioned execution is "cruel and inhuman", then it is perfectly reasonable to wish for a government that does not try to protect its citizens by threatening them with cruel and inhuman punishment.

        Finally, since you like slippery slopes, why not take your own reasoning to its "logical conclusion"? Your arguments lead to the conclusion that any sort of punishment is acceptable as long as it is preceded by a trial. Do you really believe that? Or do you believe that certain kinds of punishment are never appropriate, even if their use would not be "hypocritical" (by your criteria) for certain kinds of crime?

        • Well that's a valid criticism however you haven't limited your statements.

          Why is this only relevant in executions but not anywhere else? Why can't I apply your argument to everything else?

          The problem is that you may be trying to eat your cake and have it too. That is the core of my actual argument. Not a slippery slope argument. I am instead accusing you of hypocrisy. Because you're applying this logic on one specific context and no where else.

          That makes no sense unless you justify your exclusive use of tha

  • FFS! What is the accepted definition of execution? Does it involve pain or discomfort?
    What's wrong with anesthesia?

    • Re:Stupid (Score:5, Funny)

      by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:32PM (#49506771) Journal

      Anesthesia is essentially what is being done, only on a larger scale. The problem is the companies who make the drugs do not allow them to be used for executions.

      As to pain and discomfort, the Constitution forbids it so no, you can't use a chainsaw.

      • As to pain and discomfort, the Constitution forbids it

        It actually forbids cruel and unusual punishment. Being shot by a firing squad or hung are likely painful albeit very temporarily so. The French Guillotine was invented to be a humane execution device. People these days are looking for the perfect mix of humane and sanitary.

        • Re:Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @07:52PM (#49507163)

          People these days are looking for the perfect mix of humane and sanitary.

          I don't think anyone cares about "humane and sanitary". The people that want it abolished, want it abolished completely. The people in favor, tend to think shooting or hanging are fine. So we have "humane and sanitary" as a compromise that nobody really wants.

          • by Qzukk ( 229616 )

            a compromise that nobody really wants.

            The problem is that something like nitrogen is too humane and sanitary. The people who want executions banned will be unable to show some guy twitching and flailing about to rally people to their cause, and the people who want firing squads and guillotines won't have some guy twitching and flailing about to appease their bloodlust.

            • Re:Stupid (Score:4, Interesting)

              by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @11:28PM (#49508063) Homepage

              The two problems with the method, which is incidentally why it was not brought up, it is a very accessible means of suicide and that state is now promoting it and of course an effective murder method, again which the state is now advertising. Quite the blunder, just so it can keep killing people.

              • Re:Stupid (Score:4, Informative)

                by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @03:27AM (#49508723)

                No, there is documentary evidence that the incumbent members of the justice administration consider it too humane.

                How to kill a human being [youtube.com] is a documentary where a prominent British politician investigates the commonly used methods of execution.

                He concludes that the nitrogen method, used in abattoirs to kill pigs humanely, is ideal for human execution too. All the other methods have drawbacks. In particular, lethal injection is noted to be quite painful. In a country who's constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment, this seems odd.

                Several members of the incumbent correctional organizations express the opinion that nitrogen asphyxiation isn't cruel enough because asphyxia induces a brief, mild, state of euphoria before the victim loses consciousness. They also seem of the opinion that the execution should make the target suffer before death to provide a sense of justice to the family of their victim.

                If the killers ... go out with a euphoric high, that is not justice [1] [youtu.be]

                (and it's rumoured that Oklahoma is actually taking up nitrogen as an execution method after seeing this documentary [telegraph.co.uk]).

          • Re:Stupid (Score:5, Interesting)

            by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @09:06PM (#49507491) Homepage Journal

            The people in favor, tend to think shooting or hanging are fine.

            This isn't entirely correct.

            1) Hangings and firing squads aren't error-proof and that bothers some who favor the death penalty.

            2) There is something to be said for sanitary: The condemned prisoner's family didn't do anything wrong. Denying them a decent-looking body to bury is something that the state should avoid if possible. However, if the only legal (as determined by the SCOTUS) methods of execution result in a body that needs a lot of cleanup by the undertaker, that's tough cookies for the family.

            Having said all of this, I'm generally against the death penalty as it is applied in the United States:

            * Too many US states allow people to be condemned under the "law of parties," "murder during the commission of another felony," and for murders by people with no previous convictions for crimes that could have gotten them long prison terms. In almost all if not all of these cases, life-without-parole is a much more civilized punishment than death.

            * Too many US states also don't disallow the death penalty if there were mitigating circumstances like an IQ only slightly higher than that of a mentally retarded person, a person who is young or immature but legally an adult, a person who is under the undue influence of someone else, mild- to-moderate mental impairments that would clearly benefit from the help of a mental health professional but which do not rise to the level of legal insanity, and the like.

            When a jury condemns someone to die, they are basically saying "we give up on you as a human being." I'm almost never willing to do this. In the few cases where I am, it says that I am less civilized than I would like to be.

            Assuming the guilty person has no extenuating circumstances, I am willing to recognize my lack of civility and recommend a death sentence for the principal actors (i.e. ringleader, top-lieutenants, and if they were truly free agents, the trigger-men) for things like large-scale "crimes against humanity" (dare I invoke Godwin's Law?) and for premeditated murder for the purpose of corrupting justice, such as to kill or intimidate a witness in a criminal case or intimidate other police (the ones who weren't killed) into resigning or looking the other way. I can also see it for people who commit (or arrange for) a murder while serving a life-without-parole sentence or while "on the run" after escaping prison while they are serving a life-without-parole sentence, on the grounds that without the threat of the death penalty they would be "free" to murder under the theory that "if you are willing to do the time, you are free to do the crime."

      • Re:Stupid (Score:4, Informative)

        by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @12:57AM (#49508359)

        "What's wrong with anesthesia?"

        That was supposed to be the whole point of lethal injection using propofol, the most common surgical anesthetic. Everybody knows what propofol feels like (I had three procedures under it in 2014 alone), so execution with an overdose of it satisfies the Eighth Amendment test.

        But apparently our whole supply of it is made by one company in Germany, which hasdthreatened to withhold the entire US supply if it keeps being used for executions. This is what prompted the use of a variety of different anesthetic mixtures, some of them little tested for sensory effect (Eighth Amendment fitness) and today's host of lawsuits.

        Should we invoke the TRIPS agreement to bust patent and make our own propofol? Nitrogen satisfies the same "everybody knows wha it does" test without being in any way proprietary or endangering lucrative trade with the EU.

        • Re:Stupid (Score:5, Informative)

          by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @04:55AM (#49508957) Journal

          But apparently our whole supply of it is made by one company in Germany, which hasdthreatened to withhold the entire US supply if it keeps being used for executions.

          It's not just that they threatened to: it's flat out illegal for them under EU (and therefore German---since they ratified the treaty) law. They risk criminal sanctions for doing so.

    • Re: Stupid (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The problem States are having is that companies refuse to sell the drugs to the States because of sanctions imposed on them by the EU. You can get nitrogen anywhere.

      • by penix1 ( 722987 )

        The problem States are having is that companies refuse to sell the drugs to the States because of sanctions imposed on them by the EU.

        Oh come on now. That isn't even bullshit. It is horse shit.

        The drug companies that produce the drugs used for execution realized that their drugs, which were originally designed to save lives, was being used to take lives. Every statement made by those companies state that. In other words, they made a moral judgement that they didn't want to be seen as providing death on one

        • Re: Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Loki_1929 ( 550940 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @08:56PM (#49507431) Journal

          Oh please; they just realized how the drugs were being used? Decades of repeated, public use and some executive finally picked up a newspaper? Give me a break. What actually happened is that they periodically reevaluated the amount of money they made off sales versus the PR hit they took for making those sales and eventually the numbers tipped in a new direction.

    • Re:Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrKevvy ( 85565 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:34PM (#49506791)

      The problem with using anesthesia is that organizations (the largest of which is the EU) forbids selling anything used in executions. So states that use anesthetics to execute the condemned will find they may be then unable to purchase the same anesthetics for use in hospitals. Nitrogen, being ~80% of the atmosphere, can't possibly be restricted.

      FWIW I am completely against capital punishment, and for why one need look no further than the recent admission by the FBI that they were biased to decide a match in forensic hair analysis, which may have led to up to 14 wrongful executions. However some barbaric states are just going to continue to do it anyways, so they may as well do is as humanely as possible.

      • Re:Stupid (Score:5, Interesting)

        by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:56PM (#49506935)

        The problem with using anesthesia is that organizations (the largest of which is the EU) forbids selling anything used in executions. So states that use anesthetics to execute the condemned will find they may be then unable to purchase the same anesthetics for use in hospitals.

        Which leads to an obvious question: Isn't the U.S. capable of producing its own anesthetics? At least the ones used for executions which should no longer be covered by patents?

        • Re:Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

          by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @07:45PM (#49507137)

          Which leads to an obvious question: Isn't the U.S. capable of producing its own anesthetics? At least the ones used for executions which should no longer be covered by patents?

          Sure they could, but there's basically no market for it.

          The established European companies have the legitimate-medical-uses market sown up, so that just leaves the killing-people market, which is really damn small, so they'd never even make back their investment, much less make a profit on it.

          It would be possible to whomp up a government-owned corporation or government division to do it and not care about the cost, but the free market mania that the Republicans running the states that still do executions subscribe to probably wouldn't allow that or even have it occur to them.

  • Exit bag (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:33PM (#49506773)

    That's a pretty good method to die (not that I'm a huge fan of capital punishment). Wikipedia says Right-to-die groups recommend this form of suicide as certain, fast, and painless, according to a 2007 study [wikipedia.org].

    • manure pit (Score:4, Interesting)

      by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @09:32PM (#49507635)

      Death by nitrogen is the ideal way to die. It's so effective it's one of the dangers in nitrogen inerted buildings. You don't know you are dieing you just pass out. SOmeone comes along sees you down in the room and tries to rescue you and bang they keel over too. It's the classic farmer manure pit death.

      the key here is that your urgent need to breath oddly enough is not triggered by lack of oxygen but by build up of CO2. when you remove the O2 from your air then you don't notice it because your alarm system isn't triggered. You are still getting rid of the CO2 in your blood.

      Why nature rigged it like that I have no idea but it is easy to see that under almost any normal condition the two are linked making having separate sensors of O2 and CO2 not needed so why evolve one.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Rabbits have a direct O2 sensor and *know* when exposed to deoxygenated air. This also occurs in other burrowing animals.

      • We do have the O2 reflex, it's just not the primary one and not active in most humans.

        In individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the O2 reflex takes over - which makes it dangerous to give them high flow oxygen, because they will build up an excess of CO2 (because they don't breathe enough to expel it all). This reveals why CO2 is the usual trigger - normal air has enough oxygen in it, and our lungs are normally very efficient at absorbing it.

  • by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudson.gmail@com> on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:35PM (#49506797) Journal

    Helium, for the giggles. Plus, if there's a leak, you'll know it because people will sound like Donald Duck, whereas the first sign of a nitrogen leak is people passing out.

  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:37PM (#49506813) Journal

    Guillotine. Make sure the guides are sufficiently greased and the blade exquisitely sharp, it will be over in a second or so.

    If there's a question about the instance of pain as the blade slices through the neck, rub a numbing solution on the skin.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:39PM (#49506819) Homepage
    supreme court: guise the combination of drain-o and bug spray you used to kill someone is...unorthodox...we're going to need to review it so until then you might suspend executions.
    Oklahoma: never fear! we've found that firing squads are extremely effective! executions can continue!
    supreme court: jesus guys...no..thats not the point. the point is, you know, you at least make an attempt to reflect on the nature of capital punishment and the repercussions morally and financially of a system in ...
    Oklahoma:Nitrogen gas! shall be used in a highly controlled and technological manner in order to...
    supreme court: FFS guys....youre going to off people with the gas that car dealerships use to mark up lemons?
    Oklahoma: The gun from Star Trek Into Darkness will henceforeth be legally permitted in the administration of justice! for this we will...
    supreme court: ok...that one doesnt even exist...
  • Nitrous oxide, aka. NO2 or Laughing gas, would let the bastards go out laughing their asses off. Then there would be no debate about the cruelty of the death penalty method.

    Actually, it doesn't make you laugh, but you space out a bit. If you want to try it, just buy a can of whipped cream at your local supermarket. DO NOT shake the can. Hold it the can upright, stick it in your mouth, press on the dispenser thing, and inhale. DO NOT exhale immediately. The effects will last about 30 seconds, during w

  • If they survive the nitrogen chamber, they must be Martians.

  • Bullet to the head (Score:2, Interesting)

    by carou ( 88501 )

    Some people think that every problem can be fixed by adding more guns. Why not this one?

  • BBC Documentary - How to Kill a Human Being:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:50PM (#49506895) Journal

    Put them in jail instead.

    It's cheaper [deathpenaltyinfo.org] and a wrongful conviction [innocenceproject.org] can be reversed.

    The majority of countries no longer have the death penalty. [wikipedia.org]

    • by Cytotoxic ( 245301 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @07:02PM (#49506975)

      Yeah, this is pretty macabre. How about we just avoid killing people?

      And no, it isn't because they don't deserve it (although we inevitably execute and imprison innocent people). Most deserve worse than they get. How about let's just go with the simple idea that killing is wrong and strive to avoid it whenever possible? Killing people diminishes us - even if they were evil scumbags who deserved worse. I don't need to look to other cultures for examples and counter-examples of executing people. I don't need a popularity contest about how many other people don't like the death penalty (or the converse). Let's just go with "no killing" because it is right and be done with it.

      • by Jack Griffin ( 3459907 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @11:20PM (#49508039)

        How about let's just go with the simple idea that killing is wrong and strive to avoid it whenever possible?

        Because most people disagree with this. You kill bacteria, and insects, maybe even small mammals, and are responsible for the deaths of many large ones through your choice of appetite, clothes or furniture. Killing is not wrong, killing is right when applied correctly. The only argument is to define the boundary between correct or not.

    • by Loki_1929 ( 550940 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @09:17PM (#49507559) Journal

      It's only cheaper because our capital punishment process is so badly broken. It should not take decades to complete the process; that's just dumb. On the other hand, there are flaw in how it's applied currently (moving to the second part of your issue with it), so those also need to be fixed. I support the death penalty, but with some pretty major reforms. And as a strong advocate of it, I would be open to suspending it until said reform has changed the process to one which is much faster, cheaper, more humane, more fair, more evidence-based, and more regulated. For starters, take all the stuff the Innocence Project is doing and integrate it directly into the process and provide wide open access to all information going into the process to any third-party groups wishing to provide sunshine/oversight.

      Some individuals are so dangerous and destructive that all members of society (including prison guards, staff, and other prisoners) deserve permanent protection from them. I have no issue with extinguishing the existence of those who are so fundamentally broken that we can't contain their violence. However, we need to bend over backwards to ensure the process to do that is applied fairly, reasonably, and is designed to make it as close to impossible to execute an innocent person as we can reasonably make it.

  • figuring out to to execute people instead of solving real issues.

  • by foreverdisillusioned ( 763799 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @06:59PM (#49506949) Journal

    noting that the nitrogen would render inmates unconscious within ten seconds and kill them in minutes.

    Um, what? How the hell does that work? When I was a kid I tried to sing an entire song while doing multiple helium inhales in a row, not stopping for air. It was over a minute before the room suddenly went a little dark and spin-y.

    It wasn't at all painful. I didn't notice anything different at all until seconds before I was (presumably) going to pass out. If it were deemed uncomfortable, the condemned could be given an oral or gaseous anesthetic first.

    The death penalty is wrong and stupid in many ways, but I hope we can at least put aside the quibbling over method now. It has been a ridiculous distraction from the real issues.

    • Re:Ten seconds? (Score:5, Informative)

      by rjh ( 40933 ) <rjh@sixdemonbag.org> on Sunday April 19, 2015 @07:37PM (#49507097)

      You weren't breathing pure helium. You were breathing "balloon gas," which is a mixture of helium and normal, breathable room air. The oxygen in the mixture was keeping you conscious.

      Helium is an expensive substance and you don't need pure helium in a balloon to give it lift. By cutting the helium with air, the balloon outfit is able to make their expensive resource last much longer.

    • Re:Ten seconds? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Wheels17 ( 780115 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @07:38PM (#49507107)
      I have had two friends overcome by nitrogen on two different occasions in industrial situations. Fortunately there were people to pull them out of the atmosphere and get them breathing again. In both cases there first words were along the lines of "What am I doing on the floor?"
  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Sunday April 19, 2015 @09:46PM (#49507691)

    Let me just first clear out all the people that just don't like executions... lets just take for the sake of argument that executions are going to happen. I know you don't like them... but they're here to stay. Assuming that point, this method of execution is quite a good one. It doesn't inflict pain on people, it doesn't outwardly damage the body, it is very reliable, etc. It has everything going for it so long as you accept that executions are going to happen.

    Now I know you don't want to accept that and I am not forcing you to... I don't have that power. I am simply asking to separate the discussion about executions in general from this specific type of execution. I don't really want to have a long conversation about capital punishment.

    If you reply to me, talk to me about THIS method of execution. That is what interests me.

    On topic, I am really happy they finally did this... the previous methods had too many problems with them. This method is ideal.

  • by cyn1c77 ( 928549 ) on Monday April 20, 2015 @12:29AM (#49508265)

    ...I'd want a high-velocity bullet in the head, from a single person, at close range.

    All of these other methods, like lethal injections and nitrogen, are absolutely grotesque, overly dramatic and not "humane" at all.

    With a bullet, there is nothing to debate over. The rounds are cheap and easily available. There is no horrifically botched execution in the case of a misfire. And the hydrostatic shock destroys your brain instantly, so there is no pain.

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