Michael Copeland has a unique resume: former Assistant Attorney General of the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau, professor of criminal justice at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma—and now, the proponent of a new execution method he claims would be more humane than lethal injection.
Copeland is one of the brains behind House Bill 1879 proposed by Oklahoma State Representative Mike Christian. The bill, passed by the Oklahoma House last week, would make “nitrogen hypoxia” a secondary method to lethal injection. Oklahoma State Senator Anthony Sykes will be introducing it to the senate shortly.
Copeland explained the execution method last September to the Oklahoma House Judiciary Committee at Christian’s invitation. Copeland says that Christian had been suggesting the firing squad, but Copeland thought there might be a better way. Along with two other professors from East Central University, Christine C. Pappas and Thomas M. Parr, he is drafting a white paper about the benefits of nitrogen-induced hypoxia over lethal injection.
This isn’t Oklahoma’s first time engineering new execution methods. The modern lethal-injection protocol was first proposed by an Oklahoma state medical examiner named Jay Chapman in 1977. But Copeland, who spends most of his time teaching criminal justice policy, procedure, and research methods, has no background in medicine. This is his first foray into execution technologies.
"A suicide bag, also known as an exit bag, is a device consisting of a large plastic bag with a drawcord used to commit suicide. It is usually used in conjunction with an inert gas like helium or nitrogen, which prevents the panic, sense of suffocation and struggling during unconsciousness (the hypercapnic alarm response) usually caused by the deprivation of oxygen in the presence of carbon dioxide. This method also makes the direct cause of death difficult to trace if the bag and gas canister are removed before the death is reported. Right-to-die groups recommend this form of suicide as certain, fast, and painless, according to a 2007 study.The suicide bag was first widely mentioned in Derek Humphry's book Final Exit in 1992, and its use with inert gases mentioned in a Supplement to Final Exit published in 2000."
More specifically, it seems as if they just Googled "how to kill people other than lethal injection" and got a all kinds of neat stuff off the interwebs. Basically, the Oklahoma secondary method of execution was built off Wikipedia entries.
From its first use in the execution of Gee Jon in Nevada in 1924 to its link to Nazi gas chambers, lethal gas as method of execution has a problematic history. American lethal-gas executions typically used hydrogen cyanide as the mechanism of death. Inmates were strapped to chairs in gas chambers and the ensuing chemical reaction would cause visible signs of pain and discomfort: skin discoloration, drooling, and writhing.
But nitrogen hypoxia would likely not produce the gruesome deaths that resulted from cyanide gas executions. Copeland says that “you don’t have to worry about someone reacting differently.” The condemned person would feel slightly intoxicated before losing consciousness and ultimately dying.
Copeland thinks that it is death penalty abolitionists who have made executions inhumane by restricting access to drugs. It will only get worse. Some corrections officials at the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections agree. On February 18, they submitted a report to the state House of Representatives proposing the use of nitrogen-induced hypoxia and cited Copeland’s forthcoming paper.
Copeland says that it’s a logical and humane next step. “Nitrogen is ubiquitous. The process is humane, it doesn’t require expertise, and it’s cheap,” he explained. “I think of it as a harm-reduction thing—like you’d rather people not use heroin, but if they do, you want them to use clean needles.
“What’s missing is the question of whether or not we should be executing people at all,” said Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the Oklahoma ACLU and a former three-term member of the state House of Representatives. He argues that the state legislature is missing the big picture. “Instead, we’re having this bizarre academic exercise with professors playing doctors dressed up as executioners. Behind all of those masks, there’s no legitimate expertise to help legislators consider this method.”Precisely. The fact that a law professor with absolutely no medical credential whatsoever could recommend such a switch in alternative execution methods for Oklahoma, and be taken seriously and actually have it pass, shows you the desperate, junkie-like behavior states are resorting to in order to score their drugs for killing.
But desperate times call for desperate measures. Excuse me now while I go and try to corner the market on turkey basting bags, because remember: if basting bags, the preferred method of helium delivery in assisted suicide, are good enough Final Exit, they're good enough for Oklahoma.