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  • It was supposed to be humane.

  • You strap the condemned down to a chair, then seal him in an airtight chamber.

  • Finally, once the time has come for the prisoner's life to come to an end, lethal gas is pumped

  • into the room, ensuring a speedy, and painless death.

  • A humane approach to the death penalty for society's most violent criminals- only turns

  • out that death in the gas chamber is anything but painless, and far from humane.

  • In the early 20th century most states in the US were still hanging people, which if you've

  • seen our previous episodes on worst punishments, you'll know that hanging very often didn't

  • quite go to plan.

  • On paper, it seems simple.

  • You hoist the condemned up on a gallows, put a noose around their neck, and then drop them

  • through a trapdoor.

  • Contrary to popular opinion, the condemned didn't die from asphyxiation, but rather from

  • the sudden drop snapping their neck.

  • A clean, fast death.

  • Except it hardly ever went to plan, and when hanging went wrong, it went real wrong.

  • Like when 'Kendell Jenner solved racism by drinking Pepsi' wrong.

  • For starters, dropping a prisoner from too large a height would end up with the head

  • being popped clean off like a champagne cork, showering curious bystanders with a fountain

  • of gore.

  • Drop them from too low and the neck wouldn't break, leaving everyone staring awkwardly

  • for several minutes as the condemned very slowly choked to death.

  • Clearly there had to be a better solution, and this is where the government turned to

  • gas.

  • Once more, on paper, it seems like a simple, clean death.

  • A lethal gas is pumped into an airtight room and the prisoner lapses into unconsciousness

  • and soon thereafter, a painless death.

  • Once more, the reality was anything but the humane death that was hoped for.

  • So how does execution by lethal gas work, and how does it go so very wrong?

  • First, you have to decide on a type of gas to be used.

  • Executions can go with either a poisonous gas or an asphyxiant gas.

  • A poisonous gas typically kills by causing massive organ failure, shutting down vital

  • organs and bringing on death.

  • An asphyxiant gas simply makes it difficult for the lungs to get enough oxygen, or blocks

  • the absorption of oxygen into the bloodstream.

  • During World War II the Nazis, probably the most infamous mass gassers in history, used

  • carbon monoxide to asphyxiate dozens of people at a time.

  • This had the advantage of making cleanup and transportation of the gas safe and simple-

  • typically the gas was created on the spot by running a large engine fed by diesel or

  • gasoline, but manufactured carbon monoxide was also produced to try and speed up the

  • killing process.

  • It was still a slow process however, with executions sometimes taking up to a half hour

  • or more to complete.

  • Zyklon B, originally used as a pesticide, was rapidly found to be a superior solution.

  • Unlike carbon monoxide which kills by asphyxiation, Zyklon B directly attacks the body's cells,

  • shutting down organs and bringing death in as little as two minutes.

  • At the same time that fumigators in the US were using Zyklon B to keep insect pests under

  • control, the Nazis were using it to run the largest mass murder operation in history.

  • The United States opted for the use of Sodium Cyanide for its executions, which was believed

  • to be a fast and pain free method of death.

  • The procedure was simple: the prisoner was strapped into a chair placed in an airtight

  • chamber (use photo https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8f/Santa_Fe_gas_chamber.jpg).

  • Underneath the chair would be a container filled with sulfuric acid and distilled water.

  • Then from the safety of the outside of the chamber, the executioner would pull a lever

  • causing sodium cyanide crystals to drop into the water-acid solution, releasing hydrocyanic

  • gas.

  • The inmate would have been instructed to breathe in deeply, so as to hasten unconsciousness.

  • However, most inmates would hold their breath as long as they could.

  • Regardless, at some point the victim would go unconscious, as the cyanide entered their

  • body and the cyanide ions bound to the iron atoms inside the mitochondria of living cells.

  • This bonding would prevent cellular respiration, leading to the shutdown of the body's organs.

  • Death at the cellular level, what could possibly go wrong with that?

  • Turns out, a lot of things.

  • As has been discovered with lethal injection, with some executions taking up to a whopping

  • two hours, each person's biology is different, and people's bodies can react in extremely

  • unpredictable ways.

  • Of over 600 executions by gas in the United States, so many of these would go so significantly

  • wrong that at one point a prison warden commented that if he was forced to kill another inmate

  • with gas, he would quit his job.

  • Inmates would be seen drooling and moaning long after they should've been unconscious.

  • On september 2nd, 1983, Jimmy Lee Gray was executed by lethal gas, and after eight minutes

  • of moaning and banging his head against a pipe, the viewing room was cleared by prison

  • officials.

  • It's unknown just how long it took for him to actually die.

  • In 1960, Caryl Chessman told reporters he would nod his head if he felt pain during

  • his execution.

  • Chessman would nod his head for several minutes as he moaned behind the thick glass, until

  • at last falling unconscious.

  • Pain and unconsciousness are difficult things to study, so it's not known exactly how death

  • by lethal gas is as painful as it apparently is.

  • Experts however believe that the sensation of death by gas is similar to the extreme

  • pain of a heart attack, only extended over several minutes at a time as the gas slowly

  • works to bring death.

  • After so many horror stories from gas chamber executions, the method has been largely banned

  • in the United States, with the last execution by gas chamber taking place in 1999.

  • Today prisoners can still get the gas chamber in Arizona, California, Maryland, Mississippi,

  • Missouri, and Wyoming, though only if lethal injection cannot be administered.

  • With the effectiveness of lethal injection also in serious question however, states are

  • once more looking for a new, and humane method of execution.

  • Now go check out How Does Lethal Injection Work?

  • What Happens If It Fails?

  • Or click this other video instead!

It was supposed to be humane.

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B2 gas lethal death chamber humane cyanide

How Does Lethal Gas Actually Work?

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    Summer posted on 2021/03/12
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