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Critics Raise Doubts On Nitrogen Execution Planned in Alabama

Alabama, unless stopped by the courts, intends to strap inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith to a gurney and use a gas mask to replace breathable air with nitrogen, depriving him of oxygen needed to stay alive, on Thursday in the nation’s first execution attempt with the method. The execution would be the first attempt to use a new method since lethal injection was introduced in 1982. But it's unclear what Smith will feel, the Associated Press reports. "No one knows,” Dr. Jeffrey Keller, president of the American College of Correctional Physicians, wrote in an email. “This has never been done before. It is an experimental procedure.”

The Alabama attorney general’s office told federal appeals court judges last week that nitrogen hypoxia is “the most painless and humane method of execution known to man.” Keller, who was not involved in developing the Alabama protocol, said the plan is to “eliminate all of the oxygen from the air” that Smith is breathing by replacing it with nitrogen. “Since the condemned person will not be breathing any oxygen, he will die,” Keller said. “It is little different than putting a plastic bag over one’s head.” In court filings, the state of Alabama has predicted that the nitrogen gas will flow through a facial respirator and will “cause unconsciousness within seconds, and cause death within minutes.” The nitrogen would be administered for at least 15 minutes or “five minutes following a flatline indication on the EKG, whichever is longer,” according to state protocol.

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