Death penalty abolitionist Abe Bonowitz holds a sign reading, "Stop State Killing"

Death penalty abolitionist Abe Bonowitz of Death Penalty Action protests near the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex in Indiana on July 15, 2020.

(Photo: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Top US Nitrogen Gas Producers Ban Use in Executions

"Drug manufacturers don't want their medicines diverted and misused in torturous executions and the makers of nitrogen gas share the same objection: They do not want their products to be used to kill," said one campaigner.

Three of the leading U.S. manufacturers of medical-grade nitrogen gas said this week that they will not allow their products to be used in executions, a move that came after Louisiana approved the controversial capital punishment method recently used to kill an Alabama prisoner who appeared to be in agony before he died.

Airgas—owned by the French company Air Liquide—along with Air Products, and Matheson Gas toldThe Guardian that they are banning the use of their nitrogen gas products in the previously untested execution method used to cause death by hypoxia, or deprivation of oxygen to vital tissues.

Veterinarians consider nitrogen gas unethical for euthanizing animals and United Nations human rights experts have asserted that the execution technique may violate international anti-torture law.

"Airgas has not, and will not, supply nitrogen or other inert gases to induce hypoxia for the purpose of human execution," the company said.

Matheson Gas told The Guardian that use of its products in executions is "not consistent with our company values," while Air Products told the U.K.-based newspaper that it has established "prohibited end uses for our products, which includes the use of any of our industrial gas products for the intentional killing of any person (including nitrogen hypoxia)."

Four states—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma—have approved nitrogen gas for use in executions. Last week, Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry, a Republican, signed legislation passed by the GOP-controlled state Legislature expanding execution methods to include the electric chair and nitrogen hypoxia. This, despite the agonizing execution in January of 58-year-old Kenneth Smith, who was killed by the state of Alabama by nitrogen hypoxia on January 25 after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his last-ditch appeal.

Rev. Jeff Hood, a spiritual adviser to U.S. death row inmates, witnessed Smith's killing, which he described as "horrific and cruel." Hood and other witnesses said Smith convulsed violently for several minutes while he was strapped to a gurney and forced to breathe nitrogen gas through a mask. Even prison guards were taken by surprise as the gurney shook and Smith struggled for his life.

Alabama officials had claimed that nitrogen hypoxia is "perhaps the most humane method of execution ever devised."

States have sought alternative means of killing condemned prisoners—including nitrogen gas and firing squads—ever since the European Union banned the sale and export of lethal injection drugs in 2011.

Maya Foa, co-executive director of the anti-death penalty group Reprieve, told The Guardian that "drug manufacturers don't want their medicines diverted and misused in torturous executions and the makers of nitrogen gas share the same objection: They do not want their products to be used to kill."

"States which claim that the lethal injection or gas inhalation are 'humane' methods of execution are merely seeking to mask what it means for a state to forcibly put someone to death," Foa added. "The makers of these products see through the lie and naturally want nothing to do with it."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.