POLITICS
04/09/2015 01:57 pm ET Updated Apr 10, 2015

Oklahoma Legislature Approves Bill To Bring Back The Gas Chamber

Chris Pritchard via Getty Images

Oklahoma lawmakers voted Thursday to reinstate the gas chamber as a backup execution method to lethal injection.

The Oklahoma Senate voted 41-0 in favor of HB 1879, which legalizes execution by nitrogen hypoxia. Said by supporters to be more humane than using gases that cause suffocation, nitrogen hypoxia causes death when nitrogen gas pumped into the chamber depletes the oxygen supply in the blood.

"It just goes to show you how hell-bent they are on killing people," Richard Glossip, an Oklahoma death row inmate whose lawsuit on lethal injection will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court later this month, exclusively told The Huffington Post after the vote. "If they can gas them, use lethal injection -- it should really scare everyone out there that they're so bent on this."

The bill was approved by the House in March, and now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin (R) for signature. Reached by The Huffington Post Thursday, a gubernatorial spokesman declined to comment on the legislation until the governor's office has reviewed the measure.

Lethal injection is still the primary execution method in Oklahoma and all 31 other states that have the death penalty. The nitrogen gas chamber would be employed as a secondary method should lethal injection drugs become unavailable, or in the event the state's protocol is deemed unconstitutional when the Supreme Court examines its legality later this month.

Rep. Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City) who sponsored HB 1879 after reading a 2014 Slate article, told The Huffington Post in March that the nitrogen hypoxia method was "revolutionary."

"If Oklahoma is a state that does executions, we can find a better, humane way to carry them out," he said.

Execution by nitrogen gas is not yet a state-sanctioned method anywhere in the world, according to Slate. Dr. Joel Zivot, assistant professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University School of Medicine, previously told HuffPost that it's ethically impossible for doctors to conduct tests and verify claims on execution procedures.

"No physician is an expert in killing, and medicine doesn’t position itself intentionally in taking a life," Zivot said. "There’s no therapeutic use of nitrogen gas, and there’s no way to ethically or practically test if nitrogen gas is a humane alternative."

Christian said he would be interesting in eliminating electrocution, Oklahoma's current second alternative method of execution.

"I don’t see why there’s any need to have the electric chair in the 21st century," he said in March.

Oklahoma also authorizes the use of firing squads, only if other methods are found unconstitutional, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Stakes like Oklahoma are increasingly pushing forward backup methods to lethal injection as it faces legal pressure and supply challenges. Stores of the lethal injection chemicals on which states used to rely have dwindled in recent years as European and U.S. manufacturers cut off supply or pull their drugs from the market.

State corrections departments have turned to local compounding pharmacies to mix alternatives, but just last month the American Pharmacists Association spoke out to discourage pharmacists from participating in executions in any way.

Oklahoma in particular is at the center of a forthcoming Supreme Court decision for its use of the drug midazolam, which was used in the botched 2014 execution of inmate Clayton Lockett. All executions in Oklahoma have been stayed pending a ruling.

HuffPost

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