The United Nations has weighed in on the pending execution of an Alabama death row inmate whose execution is set to be the first through the method known as nitrogen hypoxia, CBS News reported.
In a statement from the UN Human Rights Council’s special procedures program, a group of experts expressed concern that the untested method could “result in a painful and humiliating death.”
Nitrogen makes up 78 percent of the air humans breathe. When inhaled with oxygen, the gas is harmless. However, under the method of execution, the prisoner breathes 100 percent nitrogen. The lack of oxygen causes hypoxia, or asphyxiation, which leads to death.
While Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have all authorized nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution, no prisoner has been executed using nitrogen gas.
In November, Alabama’s Republican Governor Kay Ivey announced that death row inmate Kenneth Eugene Smith would be executed on January 25 using nitrogen gas.
Smith, one of two men convicted of a 1988 murder-for-hire, would become the first inmate executed by the new method.
Smith’s lawyers have sought to stop the execution, arguing that Alabama wanted to use him as a “test subject” in an “experimental” method of execution.
In their January 4 statement, the UN’s human rights experts made a direct appeal to the federal government and state officials in Alabama asking that the state’s execution protocols be reviewed.
They argued that there was “no scientific evidence” that proved death through inhaling pure nitrogen would not cause the inmate “grave suffering.”
Proponents of the new method maintain that breathing nitrogen would be a painless method of execution.
Kenneth Eugene Smith and Joseph Forrest Parker murdered Elizabeth Sennett in 1988 after being paid $1,000 each by her husband Reverand Charles Sennett. Sennett was deeply in debt and planned to cash in on his wife’s life insurance. However, a week after his wife’s murder, Sennett committed suicide.
Parker was also sentenced to death and in 2010 was executed by lethal injection.