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Death by Nitrogen: Alabama Execution

  • Context (IE): Alabama carried out the first-ever execution using nitrogen gas in the United States.

The Method

  • Inmates are forced to inhale the pure nitrogen using an Industrial level air respirator.
  • This deprives the body of oxygen needed to maintain bodily functions and ultimately causes death.
  • Normally, we inhale nitrogen as part of atmospheric air (78%) along with Oxygen.
  • Nitrogen itself is not toxic, but asphyxiation due to the absence of Oxygen leads to death.

Claims of Painless Death

  • It was claimed to be a humane, momentarily, and painless death.
  • It was expected to cause unconsciousness within seconds and death within minutes.
  • Agonal breath (struggle to breathe) is an involuntary reflexive action, as against said painful struggle.

A botched execution in real?

  • Took 22 minutes against claims of seconds.
  • No immediate unconsciousness led to violent shaking, deep breaths, eyes rolling back and struggles.
  • Opposers see it as the “most inhumane” way of death.
  • Little research and the “guinea pig” treatment of the convict raised severe ethical and legal questions.

Death penalty in the US

  • Supporters lobby on the argument of retribution, justice for victims and deterrence for heinous crimes.
  • Opponents prefer reformation, arguing the absence of data regarding deterrence.

Death Penalty: International Opinions

  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) allows the death penalty but suggests abolition in its Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR (1989).
  • UN Economic and Social Council-Safeguarding Rights (1984): It safeguards the rights of convicts facing the death penalty.
  • Progressive Restriction (2007-2018) by UN General Assembly Resolutions: It requests members to limit the offences eligible for the death penalty and abide by international standards.


  • Colourless, odourless, tasteless
  • Usage: Ammonia manufacturing, Fertilizer industry, Refrigeration, cryo-preservation (Liquid Nitrogen), Nitric acid for explosives.
  • Nitrogen constitutes 78 per cent of Earth’s atmosphere and is a constituent of all living tissues, as well as DNA.
  • Nitrogen emission: Industrial processes, agriculture affluents.
  • Nitrogen Oxide, a poisonous, reactive Nitrogen compound, is emitted by automobiles. It is also an indirect greenhouse gas, promoting photochemical reactions.

Nitrogen cycle

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