Losing Consciousness: Hidden Dangers of Nitrogen Hypoxia

Losing Consciousness: Hidden Dangers of Nitrogen Hypoxia December 17, 2023


Nitrogen.  I keep hearing the word repeatedly.  In fact, the word presently consumes a good part of my life.  Will it happen?  Will it kill me?  What are the dangers?  Is it all hyperbole?  I don’t know.  I just know that I’ve been asked by Kenny Smith in Alabama to accompany him to the first execution by nitrogen hypoxia…his execution.  If that wasn’t enough, Smith was the victim of a botched execution just over a year ago.  So, this is a moment of firsts for my ministry with guys facing execution…the first nitrogen hypoxia and the first in which someone is facing a second attempt at execution.  The temptation is to concentrate on the firsts.  There is however something that is the same…the continuing evil of the death penalty.  Indeed, it seems that talk of nitrogen is most fitting for this moment.  One of the first effects of heavy nitrogen exposure is…a loss of consciousness.


We don’t seem to notice.  We just keep going faster.  Will we destroy ourselves?  Nobody seems to care.  We are just interested in going further than those who came before us as quickly as possible.  We call it progress.  We are sorely mistaken.

In such a world, it seems ludicrous to ask people to slow down.  Yet, slowing down is the only way to know where we are.  So, I ask you to slow down.


So often, we fail to realize the evil things that are happening all around us.  We’re in too big of a hurry to even take notice.  We ignore evil at great cost.  Often, losing our soul in the process.  You see, when we ignore evil we become evil.


There is undoubtedly a need to respond to heinous crimes that are committed in our midst.  When people kill there must be a consequence.  Historically, society has often pushed the narrative that a killer must be killed.  Perhaps, a simpler ethic has never been spoken.  Tooth for tooth.  Eye for eye.  Body for body.  Right?  If we lived by such a rule, we would all be toothless, blind and bodyless.  For, we are always making choices that detrimentally affect each other.  But that doesn’t speak to the specific question of one who kills.  Such a question is more complicated than simple platitudes.  Right?  Maybe not.  Perhaps, it is sufficient to say that you cannot teach people not to kill by killing.  There is a whole generation of young people growing up in a world that is teaching them to kill by killing.  You see, the death penalty is not some distant punishment for the worst of the worst.  There are real consequences attached to it.  In fact, the consequences of the death penalty are here and wildly apparent.  Namely, we are teaching the next generation to be comfortable with killing.  That’s what the death penalty does.  It teaches one to be comfortable with a certain type of killing.


Justice is on the tongue of those who promote the death penalty.  Yet, vengeance is what rests in the heart.  People want to kill because someone they love has been killed.  While I think it’s a natural response, it makes little rational sense.  Have you ever considered that we don’t rape people to teach them not to rape?  We don’t assault people to teach them not to assault?  We don’t slander people in order to teach them not to slander?  We don’t use drugs to teach people not to use drugs?  We don’t do these things because a society that is interested in ethical progress is interested in the rational reformation of such behaviors, not the blind continuance them.  Nobody seems to be listening.  If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we will get the same results.  Surely, that is the very definition of lunacy.  Our desire to kill should make us think more not less.


Like it or not, we’re all connected to each other.  The decisions that we make have great impact.  Regardless of the speed by which we travel, we do not walk alone.  When the great ethicist Jesus Christ directly commanded us to love our neighbors, I don’t think that such thinking was intended for just some of our neighbors.  We have an ethical responsibility to figure out how to love all of our neighbors, including those who reside on death row.  The consequence of failing in such an effort is great.  Love is so much bigger than passive understanding.  Rather, it is about active engagement.  We must slow down.  We must listen to each other.  We must stop running to the edge of a moral cliff.  We must figure out a way to love all of our neighbors.  Surely, the very health and wellbeing of our society depends on it.


Right now, Kenny Smith is the moral barometer that God is using to measure us all.  Will we pass the test?  Will we stay awake?  Only time will tell.


Nitrogen is not an excuse to fall unconscious at this pivotal moment.

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