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Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Seven years ago Chapter 1 of my book on SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity advocated the use of nitrogen to execute criminals.  While the e-version of this book only costs $3.99, you can for free refer to one of my earlier postings describing this "killing with kindness" method of termination.  Nitrogen is 78% of the air we breath.  However, if the concentration exceeds 90%, we essentially just fall asleep and die.  Execution is painless and reasonably humane.  

Humanity has been searching for the best way to end the life of the condemned, and has used suffocation, dropping the body from height, stones, swords, the Scottish Maiden (right, which was invented in the 1500's), Halifax Gibbet, guillotine (it was only in 1789 that Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin introduced legislation in the French National Assembly to more humanely and efficiently carry out capital punishment--and a committee settled on an improved version of the Scottish Maiden--which became known as the guillotine, a bloody technique, but utilized in France until 1977), hanging, firing squad, electric chair and lethal injection.  

Well, it looks we're now back to suffocation, for yesterday the state of Oklahoma overwhelmingly approved the abandonment of lethal injections to instead execute death row inmates using nitrogen gas.  This brings back memories of Nazi gas chambers, but the replacement of hydrogen cyanide with nitrogen could become the acceptable solution.

To quote from my book:

The body feels suffocation only when the carbon dioxide concentration in your lungs exceeds a certain threshold, as when you hold your breath. The beauty of using nitrogen, if you can call it that, is that in a nitrogen atmosphere, you exhale the carbon dioxide normally, but without the 20% oxygen on inhalation. Thus, death is painless without the feeling of suffocation. No state or nation is considering this option, although when I last visited Norway, being discussed was the use of this gas for the humane slaughter of fish. Maybe nitrogen should be used for turkeys and all livestock.

There have been a hundred or so industrial deaths caused by nitrogen.  Further:

In 1981, during final countdown for the Columbia Space Shuttle at the Kennedy Space Center, two NASA technicians entered the aft engine compartment, which was purged with nitrogen to reduce any hydrogen-oxygen build-up, and died in minutes from anoxia (lack of oxygen). Nitrogen has no distinct smell or taste. The same happened to the European Space Agency in 1995 when two more lost their lives from a nitrogen leak into the launchpad.

This is the same shuttle that on re-entry in 2003 disintegrated, killing seven crew members.

In the movie Still Alice, Alice (played by Julianne Moore, who won the Oscar this year for Best Actress), knowing she was soon to become incoherent from Alzheimer's, developed a suicide technique using sleeping pills, which failed.  I've personally been thinking about my end of life, and was told that a whole bunch of sleeping pills and a bottle of vodka would do the job.  Certainly, this would be a lot less odious than a bullet or jumping off a building.  However, anyone can purchase a bottle of nitrogen (oenophiles top a partially used bottle of wine to preserve the taste) and you can figure out how best to engineer the end.  Today, I'm at 15 Craigside, and, well, suicide now become unnecessary.  

So the state of Oklahoma has begun a process that seems destined to be adopted throughout the country and world.  While gas chambers are not new, the replacement of hydrogen cyanide with nitrogen might well become that simple solution.

Let me leave you with the theme from MASH, Suicide is Painless, which hit #1 in the UK in 1980.  An interesting sidelight is that the song's lyrics was written in five minutes by Mike Altman when he was 14 years old.  His father, Robert, directed the film, and said on the Johnny Carson Show that in the 80's he only made $70,000 from the film, but that his son earned millions from the song.

Suicide is Painless was used in the film when camp dentist, Captain Walter "Painless Pole" Waldowski (guy in white), contemplated suicide, becoming the theme for the TV series.


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