Alabama USA Decides to Proceed With Execution via Untested Nitrogen Gas Procedure

Alabama has secured approval for a historic execution using an untested nitrogen gas method, sparking legal and ethical debates over the cruelty and constitutionality of this impending case. Here’s the full story.

“Test Subject”

Alabama is set to make history with the grizzly decision to execute a prisoner using nitrogen gas, a method criticized by the inmate’s lawyers, as well as by human rights groups,  as cruel, unusual, and experimental.

Kenneth Smith, an inmate convicted of a 1988 murder, had sought an injunction to stop the execution, arguing that the state was turning him into a “test subject.”

The recent ruling by US district judge Austin Huffaker paves the way for the controversial procedure, sparking an ongoing debate on its devastating ethical implications.

Kenneth Smith’s Conviction

Kenneth Smith, now 58, was involved in the murder-for-hire killing of the wife of an Alabama preacher in 1988, a crime that sent shockwaves through their small community.

Prosecutors alleged that Smith and another man were paid to murder Elizabeth Sennett on behalf of her husband, who was deeply in debt and was looking to have her murdered in order to collect insurance money.

Smith’s previous execution attempt via lethal injection was called off in 2022 when technical difficulties arose with the intravenous lines.

Legal Battle to Kill a Man

Smith’s legal team had sought an injunction to halt his scheduled execution, contending that the untested nitrogen gas method violates the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Despite their arguments, Judge Huffaker rejected the request, which has set the stage for a subsequent appeal. If the case progresses, it may find its way to the US Supreme Court, where questions will no doubt be asked about, not only the constitutionality, but also of the humanity of this innovatively gruesome and controversial execution method.

State Sanctioned Suffocation

Alabama’s execution plan involves placing a respirator-type face mask over Smith’s nose and mouth, replacing his breathable air with pure nitrogen. This process leads to death from oxygen deprivation, suffocating him in a room full of breathable air.

While Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have all authorized nitrogen hypoxia, mostly due to the EU refusing to sell drugs to states where they will be used for the death penalty, no state has yet executed anyone using this method.

The procedure is untested and, according to Smith’s lawyers, is not only deeply troubling, but also raises significant concerns about its potential cruelty, as well as the untested and experimental nature of the process.

Arguments for and Against

The legal battle surrounding Smith’s execution reveals worryingly different perspectives on the risks and humaneness of death by nitrogen gas exposure.

Alabama’s attorney general, Steve Marshall, argues that unconsciousness occurs within seconds, leading to death within minutes. The state’s dubious claims draw parallels with industrial accidents involving nitrogen gas, which many have pointed out is not exactly a scientifically sound method of producing results.

Smith’s attorneys have also highlighted the many unknowns, as well as all of the potential problems associated with the execution protocol, emphasizing its potential violation of constitutional rights.

It has also been pointed out by human rights groups that the last attempt to execute Smith failed, despite that being done by a ‘tested’ procedure. 

Veterinary Comparisons 

Smith’s legal team draws attention to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2020 euthanasia guidelines. While nitrogen hypoxia is deemed an acceptable method for euthanizing pigs, concerns arise for other mammals due to the creation of a distressing “anoxic environment.”

This deeply troubling and particularly terrifying comparison raises ethical questions about the applicability, not to mention the appropriateness of a method that is considered too cruel for most mammals in the context of human executions.

Gas Mask Concerns

Another disturbing point of contention is the gas mask used in the execution process. Smith’s lawyers argue that the mask, fitted over his nose and mouth, could severely impede his ability to pray aloud or make a final statement.

The state dismisses these concerns as speculative, emphasizing that the potential interference is not substantiated. However, it must be reiterated that the state is also speculating, as the whole procedure is completely untested. 

To settle concerns about Smith’s spiritual well-being, the Alabama prison system agreed to some minor adjustments. The state ensures that Smith’s spiritual adviser can enter the execution chamber before the mask is placed on his face, allowing for prayer and anointing with oil.

While this addresses one aspect of the many concerns, the broader ethical debate surrounding the untested execution method persists.

Horrifying New Chapter

Alabama’s deeply troubling decision to execute Kenneth Smith via an untested nitrogen gas procedure opens a horrifying new chapter in the ongoing debate over capital punishment methods in the United States.

The legal battle reflects the widening divide between those who see the method as a viable alternative and those who question its constitutionality, as well as point out the many ways in which it could be seen as a cruel or unusual punishment.

As the scheduled execution date approaches, the nation watches closely, awaiting the potential ripple effects this execution will have on the future of capital punishment in the United States.

The post Alabama Decides to Proceed With Execution via Untested Nitrogen Gas Procedure first appeared on Edge Media.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / sruilk.

Oscar Davies, an expert in US and UK politics and sports, is renowned for his sharp and engaging writing style, appealing to a broad spectrum of readers.

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