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Governor Fallin Signs Bill Allowing Nitrogen Hypoxia Executions

The death chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a bill Friday expanding the options for future executions. The new procedure uses an inert gas and will replace lethal injections should the Supreme Court of the United States rule the state’s current protocol unconstitutional.  

The process replaces an inmate’s available oxygen with nitrogen through a mask or bag placed over the face.

State Representative Mike Christian wrote House Bill 1879 after pharmaceutical companies made obtaining lethal injection drugs more difficult. He first suggested using nitrogen hypoxia for executions during a September 2014 interim study.

“The solution that we've come up with is nitrogen hypoxia. One, it's practical. Two, it's efficient. Three, it's humane. And it's innovative,” Christian says during the study.

Governor Fallin signed the bill after it passed 85-10 in the House and 41-0 in the Senate.

No other state in the nation currently uses nitrogen hypoxia for death penalty proceedings. Although nitrogen hypoxia is currently a backup method, Christian said in the 2014 interim study he’d like to see it become the primary execution procedure by the end of this year. 

Advocates of the process say it’s quick, humane and does not require medical personnel. Critics argue the method is largely untested and could be an unpleasant way to put someone to death.

Oklahoma now has four execution methods: lethal injection, nitrogen hypoxia, the electric chair and a firing squad. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol case April 29. 


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