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Alabama Set to Use Nitrogen in Executions by Year's End

Alabama is close to completing a protocol for using nitrogen gas as a new form of execution in the state, fueling warnings from advocacy groups that the practice will mean future executions are essentially experiments on human subjects ending in their deaths, the Guardian reports. Alabama prisons commissioner John Hamm told the Associated Press, “We’re close. We’re close,” in reference to the new execution method, adding that the protocol should be completed by the end of this year. For years, the state has said that it is developing nitrogen hypoxia as a new execution method. This method is a form of inert gas asphyxiation that forces an individual to only breathe in nitrogen, in turn leaving them with insufficient oxygen. Nitrogen hypoxia was introduced in 2018 as an alternative to lethal injections as injection drugs became more difficult to acquire. Oklahoma and Mississippi are the only two other states that have approved nitrogen hypoxia as a form of execution, although neither have yet used it.

In 2021, the Alabama department of corrections (ADOC) told a federal judge that it finished constructing a “system” to use nitrogen gas during executions. “The ADOC has completed the initial physical build on the nitrogen hypoxia system. A safety expert has made a site visit to evaluate the system. As a result of the visit, the ADOC is considering additional health and safety measures,” a lawyer for the state attorney general’s office wrote in a court filing. Despite lawmakers arguing that the new and untested method is more humane, critics worry about the lack of transparency surrounding the process, with several comparing it to human experimentation. “Executions in Alabama have been notably secretive, rushed, and haphazard,” ACLU Alabama spokesperson Jose Vazquez said, referring to a string of botched executions in the state last year. "Since there have been no executions performed anywhere with nitrogen, there’s no way to ensure that this method would not be cruel. Instead, Alabama is turning the death penalty into state-sponsored experimentation on human beings.” Joel Zivot, an anesthesiology and surgery professor at Emory College, expressed similar concern: “It’s impossible to evaluate it unless it can be evaluated … There really is no way to test it on people that would be ethical."


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