Claudine Clark

The Unseen Faces Execution of Kenneth Smith

In delving into the imminent execution of Kenneth Smith by the state of Alabama on January 25, 2024, via nitrogen hypoxia, it is crucial to unravel the cohort of individuals intricately involved in formulating and authorizing execution protocols. Central to this examination are the key figures responsible for crafting the detailed procedures governing the act of capital punishment. From legal advisors and government officials to medical professionals with roles in designing and implementing execution methods, these individuals wield considerable influence over the fate of those facing execution. 

Behind Alabama’s decision to execute a human being through nitrogen hypoxia lies a labyrinthine network of individuals, numbering in the dozens, who have dedicated days, weeks, and months to the development of detailed protocols. These contributors engage in the meticulous work of drafting reports, exchanging emails, crafting speeches, and establishing stringent safety guidelines. However, when they return home and sit down with their families, their dual lives become glaringly incongruous. Picture the scene: “How was your day, dear?” – a seemingly ordinary question with an extraordinary answer. “Oh, it was fine. Spent eight hours methodically planning the termination of a human life through nitrogen hypoxia.” Is this the plot of an absurd Netflix drama? No, regrettably, it’s the reality faced by individuals who willingly engage in the monstrous act of orchestrating state-sanctioned executions.

A lingering question haunts my thoughts. The majority of death row inmates find themselves in that harrowing position due to crimes committed – for those who are not innocent – under conditions that defy normalcy. Often, these acts are unpremeditated, fueled by drug-induced states, haunted by PTSD, or marred by mental illness. Many of these individuals are uneducated, grappling with circumstances that contribute to the tragic events leading to their sentencing. While I do not seek to diminish the gravity of taking another person’s life, it raises a disconcerting paradox in our society. We condemn those whose actions were influenced by external factors, often with minimal education and in compromised mental states, to the ultimate penalty.

Yet, what of the educated few, those with extensive academic backgrounds – sometimes more than five years of university education – who sit around a table calmly discussing the most chilling aspects of planning the demise of another human being? These individuals, seemingly in their right minds, engage in conversations about eliminating a life in the most gruesome manner imaginable. If society deems those on death row as murderers deserving execution, what then can be said about these individuals who, in their rational state, contemplate and strategize the most horrendous act imaginable? It prompts us to question the nature of their actions and the morality of a system that allows such calculated discussions about ending a life.

You might be thinking, “But it’s their job.” Yes, that’s true. However, one’s professional path is a choice, and those with backgrounds like theirs have the privilege to select their employment. Moreover, they possess the agency to leave a job that no longer aligns with their values. The power of choice remains ever-present. It raises the question: What compels them to stay in roles where the task at hand involves meticulously planning the termination of a life, especially in the case of Kenneth Smith by nitrogen hypoxia? What satisfaction do they derive from it? Could there be a hidden vice, exploiting the legal framework to fulfill urges that, under different circumstances, might warrant capital punishment for themselves? Alternatively, are they entirely indoctrinated by a system that convinces them they are doing good?

While I don’t hold the definitive answer to these complex questions, what remains unequivocal is that they have a choice. These individuals have chosen to refine a protocol to end Kenneth Smith’s life through nitrogen hypoxia. It prompts us to question the underlying motivations, moral compass, and ethical considerations of those who actively participate in the machinery of capital punishment.

Delving into the details of death by nitrogen hypoxia exposes the grim reality of this execution method. In this process, the individual is subjected to a deliberate and controlled deprivation of oxygen. As nitrogen gradually replaces the breathable air, it triggers a disorienting and panic-inducing response. The physiological consequences intensify with the progression of oxygen depletion, leading to a state of hypoxia, where vital organs, including the brain, begin to shut down.

The initial symptoms include dizziness, confusion, and an overwhelming feeling of breathlessness. The body’s natural instinct to gasp for air becomes futile, as the nitrogen-laden atmosphere fails to provide the life-sustaining oxygen needed. As the hypoxic state intensifies, the individual experiences convulsions, seizures, and ultimately loses consciousness.

Pixabay image – Copyrights free

While proponents argue that death by nitrogen hypoxia is painless and peaceful, the inherent horror lies in the deliberate manipulation of the body’s physiological responses. The sense of suffocation, the inability to breathe, and the mental anguish inflicted upon the condemned individual starkly challenge the notion of a humane execution method. It prompts a sobering reflection on the ethical implications of subjecting a human being to a calculated process that induces a gradual and terrifying demise. The choice of such a method forces us to confront the question of whether any form of execution can truly be divorced from inherent cruelty.

In conclusion, we are faced with a disconcerting paradox. Even our cherished pets are granted a more humane departure through euthanasia, a method that stands in stark contrast to the calculated process of nitrogen hypoxia designated for Kenneth Smith’s execution.

What’s striking is the fervor with which society rises against perceived cruelty to animals in slaughterhouses. Yet, the impending execution of a human being doesn’t seem to trigger a comparable groundswell of public outrage, except within the circle of human rights defenders. This inconsistency compels us to question our collective values and underscores the urgent need for a broader societal dialogue.

The execution of Kenneth Smith is not a concern confined to a specific group; it is a matter that resonates with every one of us. It reflects our shared humanity, prompting us to scrutinize the methods used in the pursuit of justice and to advocate for a more compassionate and ethically just society.

In contemplation of the chilling reality of death by nitrogen hypoxia, let us embrace a resounding call to action: In confronting the paradox of educated individuals calmly orchestrating gruesome acts, we are prompted to question the moral fabric of our society. It’s high time for a collective awakening to the reality of such calculated discussions about ending a life. Let us acknowledge the urgency for change and foster a heightened awareness of the profound shifts needed in our shared consciousness.

About the Author
Claudine Clark is president/founder of the French Coalition Against the Death Penalty. An abolitionist, paralegal and human rights consultant, her passion stems from her origins as the granddaughter of Warsaw ghetto survivors. She defends human values of forgiveness and tolerance through numerous actions.
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