The US state of Alabama expects to carry out its first execution by nitrogen gas asphyxiation in January. Kenneth Smith, sentenced to death for a 1988 murder, is scheduled to be executed on the 25th of this month. The technique involves tying a mask to the condemned person's face, which is connected to a nitrogen cylinder, thus depriving him of oxygen.
Find alternatives to executions
North American nations have had difficulty obtaining barbiturates, which are used in lethal injection executions. This is due, among other things, to a ban imposed by European pharmaceutical companies that prevents the sale of drugs for this purpose. Given this scenario, some alternatives emerged. There are states that are reconsidering old methods like the firing squad, while Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma have adopted new gasbased protocols.
UN criticizes the new methodology
Earlier this month, United Nations (UN) experts called on US authorities to stop Smith's planned execution through the use of nitrogen hypoxia. They argue that the method can lead to “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or even torture.” In the statement, the four U.N. special rapporteurs said the method could cause “great suffering” and would likely violate prohibitions on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments.
Controversies in the application of the method
Smith's lawyers argue that the use of an untested gas asphyxiation protocol could violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” They further argue that a second attempt to execute Smith in any way would be unconstitutional.
Expectations regarding the authorities' decision and the consequences of this unprecedented practice remain high. The year is 2023 and this case could mark an important turning point in enforcement practices in the United States.