Alabama prepares to execute a convicted felon by suffocation, a world first

In the United States, Alabama, on Thursday, a man sentenced to death by inhaling nitrogen was the first UN to condemn the practice. It compared the execution method to a form of “torture”. This US government does not administer anesthesia.

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On Thursday, January 25, the day after the US Supreme Court refused to stay the execution of an inmate in Alabama, the state is preparing to use a new method called hypoxia (depletion of oxygen) for nitrogen.

Kenneth Eugene Smith's execution was the first of the year in the United States, where 24 were executed by lethal injection in 2023. Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey said Thursday, 0600 GMT, the start of a 36-hour period where the execution could be carried out.

In 2022, the government had already tried and failed to execute this man, who was sentenced to death for killing a woman ordered by her husband in 1988.

Three previous attempts to execute Kenneth Eugene Smith by lethal injection were halted at the time because state officials encountered difficulties or delays in setting up the IVs needed to administer the injections.

This is the first time that nitrogen hypoxia has been used to execute a death row inmate. The method involves placing a mask over the condemned person and forcing them to breathe nitrogen, which causes suffocation.

Exhausted appeals

Supreme Court Justices Reject Kenneth Smith's Request for Stay of Execution

Kenneth Smith's attorneys asked the Supreme Court to intervene before their client's execution, arguing that the protocol proposed by Alabama was “recent and untested” and that hypoxia in nitrogen was “a novel method of execution that had never been tried.” Any State or Central Govt.”

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Alabama's attorney general, Republican Steve Marshall, for his part, declared in a document that the method was “perhaps the most humane method of execution ever invented.”

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No dizziness

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on January 16 called the planned executions using a new and untested method called “hypoxia in nitrogen” a “warning”. High Commission spokeswoman Raveena Shamdasani warned that this “may constitute torture or other cruel or degrading treatment under international law” and called for a halt to the executions.

Alabama's nitrogen hypoxia activation protocol does not include sedation, although the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends sedation of even large animals during euthanasia.

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U.S. states that carry out executions face difficulties in obtaining barbiturates used in lethal injections, due to a European ban that prevents pharmaceutical companies from selling the drugs used in executions.

With AFP and Reuters

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