death by asphyxiation

To the editors:

Death by asphyxiation, the latest in a long list of bad ideas emanating from Oklahoma leadership, seeks to euthanize prisoners by nitrogen-induced suffocation.

In this plan, an inmate would be placed in a gas chamber or have a mask placed over their head that would release nitrogen gas onto their face. Nitrogen, an inert gas, replaces oxygen and would slowly asphyxiate the person to death.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has determined this method of euthanasia unacceptable for dogs or cats (see page 24). What in the world makes Oklahoma’s state leaders think this could be acceptable for human beings?

This is how inhumane euthanasia by inert gas is for animals. To quote the AVMA:

Any gas that is inhaled must reach a certain concentration in the alveoli (lungs) before it can be effective; therefore, euthanasia with any of these agents takes some time.

The AVMA goes on to say the disadvantages of nitrogen-induced hypoxia/suffocation/euthanasia include:

(1) The loss of consciousness is preceded by hypoxemia and ventilatory stimulation, which may be distressing to the animal

(2) Reestablishing a low concentration of O2 (ie, 6% or greater) in the chamber before death will allow immediate recovery.

This means, for example, if a struggling prisoner were to create a space between his face and the mask, in turn letting air into the mask for a moment, the prisoner would immediately recover only to resume the euthanasia process. This is incredibly inhumane and torturous.

In addition, the AVMA goes on to say this about the nitrogen-euthanasia process: “… exposure times of greater than 7 minutes are needed to ensure killing of pigs.”

We know pigs aren’t humans, but many aspects of their physiology are very similar. So, it’s not a far stretch to think humans might respond in a similar fashion.

Veterinarians consider this method of euthanasia inhumane in mammals, i.e. dogs, cats, pigs, etc. It won’t be any different for human beings. To even consider this idea, let alone publicly announce its consideration, reflects the depth of the lack of humaneness prevalent in current Oklahoma state government.

Death by asphyxiation is immoral.

Death by asphyxiation is inhumane.

Death by asphyxiation has no place in Oklahoma.


Joe Carter, DVM
Oklahoma Equine Hospital

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