Alabama may use unproven execution method ‘nitrogen hypoxia’

Alabama could use nitrogen hypoxia for executions in death sentences. What is it? – NPR

The state of Alabama is preparing a new method of execution – nitrogen hypoxia – to carry out the execution of its death sentences.

This method was approved by the state in 2018 but has not yet been used or tested.

Alan Eugene Miller, who faces execution on Sep. 22, was convicted of killing three men in a workplace shooting in 1999. Because of a fear of needles, he chose nitrogen hypoxia instead of lethal injection, but corrections officers lost his paperwork.

Although Miller’s lawyer did not find any evidence of that, he could be killed using nitrogen hypoxia if a judge blocks lethal injection.

Nitrogen hypoxia: what is it?

Hypoxia occurs when the body’s tissues are not supplied with enough oxygen to perform its regular functions. The condition differs from hypoxemia, which is caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood.

Nitrogen hypoxia is a form of asphyxiation caused by inert gases. We can breathe nitrogen safely if it is mixed with oxygen in a suitable proportion – it makes up 78% of what we breathe.

Inert gas asphyxiation uses gasses that are not poisonous, such as nitrogen, methane, or helium, as a diluting agent for atmospheric gases. As a result, oxygen concentrations in the air are reduced to fatally low levels, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

It becomes difficult to breathe once oxygen levels fall below 16%. As soon as a person reaches 4% to 6%, he or she can go into a coma.

The method is causing concerns

Other states that have authorized the method are Oklahoma and Mississippi. Russell Bucklew, a Missouri inmate who sought nitrogen hypoxia approval, was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.

He was originally scheduled to be executed in 2014 but sued the Missouri Department of Corrections asking for nitrogen hypoxia instead of lethal injection because he had a medical condition.

As analyzed by the Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch denied the request, stating that nitrogen hypoxia had never been tested and Missouri was not capable of properly preparing the nitrogen hypoxia.

He added that Bucklew’s proposal should have detailed how the nitrogen gas should be administered, the amount given and the time it would take for the nitrogen gas to work as well as a way to keep the execution team safe.

As a result, the Court found there was no evidence to support Bucklew’s claim that hypoxia would be less painful. His execution by lethal injection took place in 2019.

For more coverage on this story, check the following additional news sources:

  1. Alabama could use nitrogen hypoxia for executions in death sentences. What is it?  NPR
  2. Alabama nearly ready with untried execution method  FOX10 News
  3. Gov. Kay Ivey ‘to trust the courts’ on Alabama nitrogen hypoxia execution protocol
  4. Alabama is preparing to use a new method of execution on death row inmate later this month  NBC News
  5. Alabama may use untried execution method, nitrogen hypoxia, on man convicted in 1999 triple killing  CBS News