OKLAHOMA CITY, April 9 (UPI) -- Oklahoma is one step closer to becoming the first state to allow executions by nitrogen gas after the state Senate on Thursday passed legislation legalizing the method.
The bill was unanimously passed 41-0.
The law, should Gov. Mary Fallin sign it, would make death by nitrogen gas the preferred method of execution if lethal injection drugs are not available or are found to be unconstitutional.
The use of nitrogen gas causes a person to black out and eventually die from lack of oxygen.
East Central University criminal justice professor Michael Copeland told KWTV-TV in Oklahoma City that the use of nitrogen gas is humane. "You don't have to worry about supply problems and doesn't require the assistance of medical professionals," he said.
Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol -- specifically its use of midazolam, a general anesthetic -- is scheduled to be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court after what critics are calling the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April.
After receiving an injection including midazolam, Lockett had convulsions and reportedly tried to speak and lift his head even after doctors declared him unconscious. It took him 43 minutes to die after the injection.
The Supreme Court has stayed three Oklahoma executions pending its ruling, slated to take place in April.
Executions in the United States have undergone some changes in recent years after states started running out of the essential lethal injection drug pentobarbital. The European Union in 2011 voted to prohibit the sale of the drug and seven other barbiturates to the United States for use in torture or executions.
Now states are being forced to use new drug cocktails, scramble to restock their stores of drugs and review their lethal injection policies.
In March, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert signed into law legislation that allows the state to use the firing squad for executions if lethal injection drugs aren't available.