Prevent Return of Barbaric Gas Chamber Executions


Target:  Missouri State Attorney General Chris Koster

Goal: Prevent the use of gas chambers in Missouri executions

Attorney General Chris Koster is eager to move ahead with executions in his state and in his eagerness, he is willing to bring back a cruel and barbaric method of execution: the gas chamber. A Missouri statute allows for execution by two means: lethal injection and the gas chamber. The traditional three-drug cocktail long used in lethal injections is no longer an option, as the makers of sodium thiopental, the first of the three drugs, has stopped supplying the drug for use in lethal injections. Missouri  tried to use a single-drug method, involving a heavy dose of propofol, the drug implicated in the death of singer Michael Jackson, but cannot due to a pending court challenge by several inmates alleging the use of the drug is “cruel and unusual punishment.” As a result, Attorney General Koster has expressed a desire to return to the use of gas chambers, not used in the state since 1965, and not in the US since 1999.

Within the airtight gas chamber, potassium cyanide and sulfuric acid are mixed to produce the gas hydrogen cyanide. The poison works by interfering with cellular respiration, suffocating each cell one by one until a major organ system fails. Gas chamber executions have been known to take upwards of ten minutes, with the victims moaning, screaming, and struggling against their restraints.

Execution by gas chamber is a cruel method of execution that has not been used by any other nation except Germany during the Nazi era. Its use has already been found unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment” by the 9th Circuit Court, in a case where one warden who witnessed such an execution stated that he would resign if required to perform another such execution. The revival of this cruel method of killing would also impose great expenses on the state, as new gas chambers would need to be constructed. Please urge District Attorney Koster not to implement this barbaric means of execution.


Dear District Attorney Chris Koster,

I implore you not to revive the use of gas chambers in the state of Missouri. The use of gas chambers is both unconstitutional and immoral, and contrary to the spirit of American justice and humanity.

No other nation has used gas chambers as a regular means of execution. Germany, in the dark days of Nazi rule, used large chambers for the mass-slaughter of those the regime classed as “undesirables.” Hydrogen Cyanide, the same gas used in American prison gas chambers, was what the Nazis used in their horrific, genocidal slaughter. The reputations of the great state of Missouri and the United States are tarnished, and their ability to stand as global exemplars of humanity and justice severely impeded, when they are associated with such anachronistic barbarism.

Missouri has not used the gas chamber since 1965, and no state has used the gas chamber since 1999. Gas chambers have already been ruled unconstitutional in one federal appeals circuit, and the rarity of their use in the past decades suggests that a court would find their use “unusual.” The element of cruelty is doubtless: inmates may remain conscious for several minutes, during which they “suffer intense, visceral pain” as well as “anxiety, terror, and panic.” It is highly likely that a court challenge to the implementation of such chambers will result in, at the least, continued delays, as have the current cases challenging the constitutionality of propofol for executions. During these dire fiscal times, it would not be prudent for your state to implement a method of execution that will likely never be implemented, especially so cruel a method.

Our nation’s founding document reflects a disdain for cruel punishment for any crimes, even the most heinous. The desire to swiftly administer duly-ordered punishments in no way justifies violating that most basic of principles. Please do not bring back this barbaric and cruel means of execution.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Massimiliano Lincetto via Wikimedia Commons

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