The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

Alabama’s first nitrogen gas execution raises ethical eyebrows

Alex Hall
Alabama is the first state to use nitrogen gas for an execution. This method is regarded as a more contemporary and humane approach to execution when compared to older techniques.

Nitrogen gas, introduced as the newest execution technique in Alabama this January, has triggered widespread ethical apprehension.

Alabama made history on Jan. 25, by carrying out the first known execution using nitrogen gas in the United States. Inmate Kenneth Smith was put to death, marking a significant milestone in the state’s approach to capital punishment.

Nitrogen gas, a colorless and odorless inert gas that constitutes 78% of the Earth’s atmosphere, has emerged as a proposed method of execution. 

“The body functions as a nitrogen sensor, and when the gas is released, it essentially deprives the body, leading to its demise,” said Colton Earle, an instructor from Austin Community College.

Death through nitrogen gas occurs by depriving individuals of the necessary oxygen for sustaining life; breathing in pure nitrogen, which constitutes a majority of our regular air, displaces oxygen in the lungs, resulting in hypoxia — a condition that occurs when the body doesn’t receive enough oxygen, which could cause unconsciousness and even death. While it is harmless when combined with appropriate oxygen levels, nitrogen, in its pure form, proves lethal upon inhalation.

The body functions as a nitrogen sensor, and when the gas is released, it essentially deprives the body, leading to its demise.

— Colton Earle

The consideration of nitrogen gas as an execution method is relatively recent, influenced by challenges with other methods, such as the unavailability of lethal injection drugs. The proposal for nitrogen hypoxia emerged when representative Mike Christian of Oklahoma suggested it as an alternative, based on a report by an assistant professor of criminal justice at East Central University. Nitrogen hypoxia is considered cost-effective, potentially more humane, and widely used in other industries owing to its perceived efficacy and availability.

The use of nitrogen gas for execution has sparked a debate. Supporters argue that nitrogen hypoxia is a humane method, quickly inducing unconsciousness without pain. They also highlight that nitrogen is a non-toxic gas readily available in various industries, making it a viable alternative to hard-to-find lethal injection drugs.

However, critics raise significant concerns about the lack of empirical evidence supporting the notion that nitrogen hypoxia results in a peaceful and non-cruel death. The experimental nature of this execution method, exemplified by its first use in the United States during Smith’s case, introduces an element of uncertainty. Reports of convulsions and violent shaking during the initial nitrogen gas execution underscore doubts about the process. 

More ethical concerns further complicate the matter, with the United Nations Human Rights Office urging caution and suggesting that nitrogen hypoxia could amount to torture, potentially violating human rights treaties.

Public opinion on the use of nitrogen gas for executions is varied, with some seeing it as a step forward in humane treatment and others viewing it as untested and potentially problematic. 

“I mean, it could be considerably better than lethal injection; you don’t know, we haven’t done that much testing yet,” said Aiden Shao, a sophomore at Carlmont High School.

Shao’s perspective resonates with many nationwide who remain intrigued by the possibility of exploring this avenue as a potential alternative to existing execution methods.

“It’s worth noting that they could be in pain, and we would not know it; I mean, if we have a method that works, why change it,” said Rohan Shukla, a sophomore at Carlmont High School. 

Shukla’s viewpoint resonates with numerous individuals who argue that if we possess a modern execution method that efficiently and painlessly carries out the process, why consider a change? 

In the ongoing debate surrounding the use of nitrogen gas for executions, one thing remains clear: the quest for a truly humane method of execution is still unraveling. 

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About the Contributors
Aarav Parihar, Staff Writer
Aarav Parihar (Class of 2026) has passions for math, gardening, photography, and reading mystery novels. With extensive experience in Robotics, he finds excitement in working with electrical circuits. You can often spot him engrossed in a good book at the library, sipping on chai. View his portfolio here.
Alex Hall, Staff Writer
Alex Hall: The man, the myth, the legend (in progress). Alex (Class of 2026) covers news in Carlmont Journalism, enjoys programming, and is a proud Carlmont Robotics member. You'll find him complaining about Spanish or "expanding his horizons" on the internet. He loves taking pictures of local flora, although he might run away if you catch him.

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