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First Execution by Nitrogen in the US

Kenneth Eugene Smith is set to be executed by the administration of nitrogen. Breathing pure nitrogen causes asphyxiation, as the person is deprived of oxygen and this soon results in death. It is the first time any method other than a lethal injection is being used in the United States, in over 40 years. 


The most interesting part about this sentence is that this is the second time Smith will be in the dreaded position of meeting his end. A little over a year ago, he was in place to receive the lethal injection; however, the injection could not be administered, due to the assigned team not finding a vein to inject the IV drip into. 


There have been certain ethical concerns raised regarding this particular method used in the execution. Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated “We have serious concerns that Smith’s execution in these circumstances could breach the prohibition on torture, or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment; as well as his right to effective remedies.”


There have also been questions raised regarding how the gas is being administered into the body. Smith will have a face mask put on, and the gas will be released through the mask. There is a fear that this will be prone to micro leakages, causing the death to be slower and not painless. In the case of assisted suicide, a bag or a pod is used to make sure that no air is being leaked, leading to a quick and painless death. Also in the case of euthanasia, the person is put under an anaesthetic; which is another thing which is notably missing from the Alabama court’s ruling.


Smith and John Forest Parker were paid $1000 each by Charles Sennett, to kill his wife, Elizabeth Sennett, after he had filed an insurance claim to help with his debt while he was also having an affair. After they attempted to cover it up as a burglary was squandered, investigators soon had all three of them as suspects. Soon after being apprehended as a suspect, Sennett committed suicide; Parker’s death row execution took place in 2010.  Smith was convicted in 1988 in a murder-for-hire case, originally set to serve life in prison without parole; he was then placed on death row in 1996.


Smith’s lawyers have called for the execution to be called off; as they believe that subjecting Smith to the same traumatic experience, that he has already gone through, is uncalled for and is in violation of human rights. Smith has said that he is undergoing treatment for PTSD, from the failed attempt, and has heightened levels of anxiety after the new date of execution was announced.


Attorney General, Steve Marshall, has been consistent with his position that the method of execution is humane and safe; he has also maintained that the execution is necessary to bring justice to the family of the victims. 


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