Alabama is readying an untried method of execution to carry out death sentences – nitrogen hypoxia.
The state approved the method in 2018, but it has not yet been used or tested. The man awaiting a Sept. 22 execution, Alan Eugene Miller, was convicted of killing three men in a workplace shooting in 1999. He said he opted for nitrogen hypoxia instead of lethal injection due to a fear of needles, but corrections officers lost his paperwork, NPR reports. While the Alabama attorney general's office found no evidence of that, Miller could be executed by nitrogen hypoxia if a judge blocks the use of lethal injection.
Hypoxia is the lack of sufficient oxygen in the tissues for the body to perform its regular functions. It is different from hypoxemia, which occurs when there is low oxygen in the blood. Nitrogen hypoxia is a form of inert gas asphyxiation. Nitrogen is safe to breathe – it makes up 78 percent of what people inhale – but only when mixed with suitable amounts of oxygen. Oklahoma and Mississippi are the two other states that have authorized the method. Russell Bucklew, a man incarcerated in Missouri, tried to get approved for nitrogen hypoxia, but was denied in a lawsuit that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Neil Gorsuch denied the request, speaking for the court, saying that nitrogen hypoxia had been untested and Missouri could not properly prepare it.