Tucked inside last week's scathing Multicounty Grand Jury report was a recommendation the state begin moving away from lethal injection. Instead jurors suggested the state hire experts to take a look at moving to nitrogen hypoxia; a suggestion that renewed arguments over the feasibility, legality and moral efficacy of Oklahoma’s back-up execution method.
The Grand Jury had been investigating Oklahoma’s recent problems in the execution of convicted murderer Charles Warner and scheduled executions of convicted murderer Richard Glossip.
The method of using Nitrogen Hypoxia pipes pure nitrogen into a facemask or a sealed hood around an inmate's head.
According to an unnamed doctor and unnamed professor who testified in front of the jury, the method would be “easy and inexpensive,” “simple to administer” and “quick and seemingly painless.”
The professor also gave anecdotal evidence from high altitude pilots who were trained to recognize symptoms of nitrogen hypoxia and said they did not feel “any feelings of suffocation, choking or gagging.”
Oklahoma opponents of the method, and the death penalty as a whole, say there's no good reason to think the state would get executions right with a different method. The ACLU-Oklahoma linked the method to Nazi concentration camps and human experimentation.
“As a state, we will stand on the shoulders of such lauded men and Reinhart Heidrick and Adolf Eichman, pioneers in the Nazi SS, who developed technologies like hypoxia as ways to kill, not just one person, but a whole lot of people,” ACLU-OK’s Legal Director Brady Henderson said in a press conference one day after the report was released.
Hypoxia was signed into law as a back-up last spring, should lethal injection be deemed unconstitutional or if the drugs used become too hard to find. The latter has already begun to play out during a global shortage of key components to the state's lethal cocktail.
Many major pharmaceutical companies in Europe have said they will not allow their drugs to be used in lethal injections. Most recently the American pharma-giant, Pfizer, said it will follow suit, calling the use of its pharmaceuticals in executions a “misuse of medicines.”
Currently, the Department of Corrections does not know how long it would take for the state to switch methods and they have no plans to use nitrogen hypoxia as a method, according to a spokesperson for the department.