Alabama has a new method for its death sentences: nitrogen hypoxia. What is that? : NPR


Officials escort murder suspect Alan Eugene Miller away from the Pelham City jail in Alabama, August 5, 1999. Miller, who was to be put to death by lethal injection on September 22, 2022, for a workplace shooting in 1999 who killed three men, says the state lost the documents he handed over by choosing another method of execution.

Dave Martin/AP


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Dave Martin/AP

Alabama has a new method for its death sentences: nitrogen hypoxia. What is that? : NPR

Officials escort murder suspect Alan Eugene Miller away from the Pelham City jail in Alabama, August 5, 1999. Miller, who was to be put to death by lethal injection on September 22, 2022, for a workplace shooting in 1999 who killed three men, says the state lost the documents he handed over by choosing another method of execution.

Dave Martin/AP

Alabama is preparing an unprecedented execution method to carry out its death sentences – nitrogen hypoxia.

The state approved the method in 2018, but it has not yet been used or tested.

Man Awaiting Execution September 22, Alan Eugene Miller, was found guilty of murdering three men in a workplace shooting in 1999. He said he opted for hypoxia at the nitrogen instead of lethal injection due to fear of needles, but corrections officers lost his papers. .

Although the Alabama Attorney General’s office found no evidence of this, Miller could be killed by nitrogen hypoxia if a judge blocked the use of lethal injection.

What is nitrogen hypoxia?

Hypoxia occurs when there is not enough oxygen in the tissues for the body to perform its usual functions. It is different from hypoxemia, which occurs when there is low oxygen in the blood.

Nitrogen hypoxia is a form of inert gas asphyxia. Nitrogen is safe to breathe – it makes up 78% of what we inhale – but only when mixed with appropriate amounts of oxygen.

Inert gas asphyxiation uses gases that are generally non-toxic, such as nitrogen, methane, or helium, as a diluting agent for atmospheric gases. This then reduces the oxygen concentration to extremely low amounts, according to the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

Once oxygen levels drop below 16%, breathing becomes difficult. At 4% to 6%, a person can go into a coma in as little as 40 seconds.

There are concerns about the method

Oklahoma and Mississippi are the other two states that have authorized the method. Russell Bucklew, an incarcerated man in Missouri, tried to get approval for nitrogen hypoxia, but was unsuccessful in a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bucklew was originally scheduled for execution in 2014, but sued the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections to request the use of nitrogen hypoxia instead of lethal injection due to a medical condition he had.

In the court’s opinion, Judge Neil Gorsuch denied the request, saying nitrogen hypoxia had not been tested and Missouri could not prepare it properly.

Bucklew’s proposal should have included how the nitrogen gas should be administered, in what quantities, how long it would take to work and how to ensure the safety of the enforcement team, he said.

The Court also ruled that there was no evidence to support Bucklew’s claim that hypoxia would be less painful. He was executed in 2019 by lethal injection.


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