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Capital Punishment

Oklahoma bill would allow use of nitrogen gas in executions

An execution chamber.

Oklahoma legislators believe they have come up with a good backup plan in case lethal injection isn't a viable option for an execution: Nitrogen gas hypoxia.

The Oklahoma Senate sent the governor a bill that says the new method can be used if lethal injection drugs become unavailable. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) is a supporter of the death penalty, but her office would not comment on the bill. Executions in the state are on hiatus, following a botched execution last year that took 43 minutes to complete. The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering if the state's lethal injection method using three separate drugs is constitutional.

It's also been difficult for many states to get lethal injection drugs, as more and more pharmaceutical companies refuse to sell them for use in executions. The bill's author, Rep. Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City), says that the process is "fast and painless. It's foolproof." Since it's easy to get nitrogen, "there is no way for anti-death penalty activists...to restrict its supply." Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) thinks this is a dangerous line of thinking, telling The Associated Press, "It just hasn't been tried, so we don't know. This is all based on some internet research and a documentary from the BBC."