Our View: Oklahoma lawmakers should take the time to research genuine alternatives for inmate executions rather than propose completely untested methods to avoid delaying executions.
Oklahoma, at least its lawmakers, seem to have an obsession with death. Last semester we wrote about the botched execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett with untested lethal injection drugs, and about how he writhed on the execution table for nearly an hour before eventually dying. That episode caused national outrage and it certainly sickened us. We hoped Oklahoma officials would step back from capital punishments for awhile in the aftermath of such a horrific incident and take the time to develop an acceptable alternative lethal injection drug. However, rather than postpone impending executions, Oklahoma lawmakers are proposing killing inmates with nitrogen gas.
While not much of what Oklahoma governmental officials do should surprise us anymore, we were shocked by a study into execution by nitrogen hypoxia called for by Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City on Tuesday. Execution by nitrogen anoxia entails placing inmates in a sealed chamber or putting a mask on their faces to induce asphyxiation by nitrogen gas. Christian said he plans to propose a bill to implement the new execution method during next year's legislative cycle.
At least in the April 29 botched execution prison officials were using a method widely known and accepted, although they carried it out via untested drugs. However, this new method, death by nitrogen gas, has never been used or accepted by any state or country. Proponents of the method argue that death by asphyxiation caused by nitrogen gas inhalation is painless in humans and would be a more humane method to execute prisoners. We can't help feeling apprehensive about Oklahoma, a state that royally bungled an execution carried out through long-standing lethal injection methods, using a completely untested execution method. If Oklahoma officials couldn't figure out the appropriate dosages of lethal injection drugs in the Lockett execution, how can we trust them to accurately use the correct volume of nitrogen gas to carry out capital punishment?
It seems Oklahoma is intent on maintaining the death penalty at all costs, so we believe Oklahoma lawmakers should take the time to test execution methods and ensure they will get the job done humanely rather than rush to find temporary solutions and risk future horrifically mishandled executions. Our proposal would likely take longer and cost more than passing band-aid alternatives to make sure the executioner's schedule isn't delayed. But we believe guaranteeing humane executions is much more important than making sure inmates are killed on time. In fact, the the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment, which is what we believe testing unused execution methods on human subjects amounts to.
We urge all students and Oklahomans in general to contact their state representatives and let them know we don't support capital punishment at all costs, and certainly not by untested methods. Oklahoma voters can find their legislators here and suggestions for writing effective letters from the National Education Association here.