Nitrogen Asphyxiation

While it isn’t a totally new idea, in April Oklahoma became the first state – likely the first place – to authorize judicial executions be carried out by nitrogen asphyxiation.  (Tulsa World, April 18, 2015, Time, April 17, 2015).

The justification for this is that lethal injection drugs are getting hard for prisons to get; because of pressure put on pharmaceutical companies by anti-death penalty advocates.  Having an alternative makes sense.

I can see the attractiveness of nitrogen asphyxiation.  It should be fairly easy to setup and uses pretty available supplies.

I’ve put my imagination to work, I think I’ve come up with how these execution could be carried out:

Air Mask

Air Mask

The equipment needed would be a full face air mask, similar to the one shown, a source of compressed air (including oxygen) which could easily be an air compressor, a tank of pure nitrogen, and some sort of a valve that will allow air to be switched between two sources.  A method to heat and humidify the air, not unlike ones used by CPAP users, might be of use since compressed air tends to end up cold when expanded.

Beyond that, the same bed used for lethal injection, or a re-purposed electric chair, could be used to restrain the condemned inmate.

Shortly before the condemned inmate would be brought into the execution chamber, they would have the mask sized to ensure that there are no leaks that could let air in.  Male inmates probably would have to be clean shaven to make a good seal.

Once the inmate was brought into the chamber, secured, and had made any statement, compressed air would be started into the mask, which would then be secured on the inmate’s face.  Then, on a signal, the valve would be adjusted to switch the source from the normal air to the pure nitrogen.

Reports indicate that this would be a reasonably gentle death – at least once the inmate overcame any instinct to hold their breath.  Since they’d be able to expel any carbon dioxide from their body, the normal system to indicate asphyxiation would be bypassed.  They would simply pass out due to lack of oxygen, followed by brain and then body death.

This does have some of the drawbacks of the former method of execution in the gas chamber, namely that the inmate must in at least a small way participate in their own death by breathing.

Personally, given the choice, I’d choose this to lethal injection for a number of reasons.  I’m not sure that if I were the condemned inmate it wouldn’t be as or more stressful than lethal injection, but it promises to be at least a bit quicker even if nothing goes wrong.

I’d advocate that all of the jurisdictions in the U.S. with a death penalty adopt an alternate method of execution beyond lethal injection.  The realistic options at this point probably are hanging and nitrogen asphyxiation.  The electric chair might be an option in the states that still have one that is operational.  The gas chamber is probably not a realistic option anymore – unless adapted to use nitrogen, but I think that might be a difficult proposition since the volume of air that would have to be displaced with pure nitrogen is quite high.

One Response to Nitrogen Asphyxiation