Monday, 7 May 2018

States Turn to an Unproven Method of Execution: Nitrogen Gas

Nitrogen Gas

Hamstrung by troubles with lethal injection — gruesomely botched attempts, legal battles, and growing difficulty obtaining the drugs — states are trying to find other ways to hold out the execution.

High on the list for a few may be a method that has never been used before: inhaling nitrogen gas.

Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi have authorized nitrogen for executions and are developing protocols to use it, which represents a leap into the unknown.

There is no scientific data on executing people with nitrogen, leading some experts to question whether states, in trying to unravel old problems, may create new ones.

“If and when states begin completing executions with nitrogen, it'll amount to an equivalent sort of experimentation we see within the different variations of lethal injection,” said Jen Moreno, a lawyer who is an expert on lethal injection at the Berkeley Law execution Clinic.

With some 2,750 inmates on death house in 31 states and in federal and military prisons, any jurisdiction that tries something new is going to be scrutinized as a test lab.

The push for change comes because lethal injection introduced 40 years ago as more efficient and humane than the electric chair or death chamber has not met that promise.

Indeed, it's sometimes resulted in spectacles that rival those it had been meant to avert.

One the pitfall is that execution teams must find a vein to infuse, a process which will be excruciating.

In February, an Alabama execution team gave up after trying for quite two hours on an inmate whose blood vessels had been damaged by chemotherapy and substance abuse.

His lawyer accused the team of opening an artery and puncturing the prisoner’s bladder. The state later said it might not try again to execute him.

The lethal injection also involves drugs that, if given incorrectly, may result in suffering.

One maybe a paralyzing agent, and therefore the other stops the guts.

The paralyzing drug was included within the original plan for lethal injection partly to form the method look peaceful and fewer disturbing to witnesses, by preventing the prisoner from thrashing around.

Both it and therefore the heart-stopping drug is alleged to tend after a strong sedative has rendered the person unconscious, but if the sedative doesn't work properly, the opposite two drugs can cause significant pain.

Barbiturates were originally used for sedation, but manufacturers began refusing to sell them for executions.

So states tried substituting other drugs. Some were ineffective and left prisoners moaning in what seemed to be prolonged agony.

Nebraska and Nevada hopes to soon start using the opioid fentanyl as a sedative.

Illegal use has made it an epidemic of national death statistics, but medically it's a crucial painkiller and anesthetic.

Defense lawyers in Nebraska have argued that fentanyl comes under a federal law that limits its distribution to lifesaving purposes which it's, therefore, illegal for a jail clinic to distribute it for execution.

A trial seeking information about the source of the fentanyl is scheduled for May 14.

In March, Oklahoma’s attorney general, Mike Hunter, said that using nitrogen was “the safest, best "> the simplest and therefore the most effective method available.”

There is scant scientific data to copy that statement. What little is understood about fatality by nitrogen comes from industrial and medical accidents and its use in suicide?

In accidents, when people are exposed to high levels of nitrogen and tiny air in an indoor space, they need to die quickly.

In some cases co-workers who rushed in to rescue them also collapsed and died.

Nitrogen itself isn't poisonous, but someone who inhales it, with no air, will pass out quickly, probably in but a moment, and die soon after — from lack of oxygen.

The same is true of other physiologically inert gases, including helium and argon, which kills only by replacing oxygen.

A report from us Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said that breathing “an oxygen-deficient atmosphere” can knock an individual unconscious after only one or two breaths, which “the exposed person has no warning and can't sense that the oxygen level is just too low.”

(Although nitrogen itself would be novel, gas chambers have existed as an American execution method since the 1920s.

The last case was in 1999 when Arizona used clouds of the compound to execute an inmate.

Coughing and hacking, he took 18 minutes to die.)

Death from nitrogen is assumed to be painless. It should prevent the condition that causes feelings of suffocation: the buildup of CO2 from not having the ability to exhale.

Humans are sensitive to CO2 — an excessive amount of brings on the panicky feeling of not having the ability to breathe.

Somewhat surprisingly, the shortage of oxygen doesn’t trigger that very same reflex.

Someone breathing pure nitrogen can still exhale CO2 and thus shouldn't have the feeling of smothering.

Before passing out, an individual may feel lightheaded, dizzy, or even even a touch euphoric, and vision may dim.

Dr. Charles D. Blanke, who has studied data on physician-assisted dying, said it had been not in the least clear that nitrogen inhalation would bring a peaceful death.

Dr. Blanke, a medical oncologist, and professor at Oregon Health and Science University said he had consulted colleagues in pulmonary medicine and anesthesiology, and that they had concerns that CO2 actually could build up and cause feelings of suffocation.

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