Gas Chambers: A History and Overview

by Denise LeBeau

Many tax-funded animal shelters still use carbon monoxide gas chambers to kill unwanted cats and dogs.

This method is considered by many to be outdated and inhumane. Your taxes are funding It!

Animals in a gas chamber do not die quickly or painlessly. They struggle for breath. They claw to get out. This is not a pretty site and will stay with you for a very long time. When animals inhale carbon monoxide, they can suffer convulsions, vomiting, angina, and muscular spasms. Some will not die the first time. There is a better, more humane way, euthanasia by injection. This method is cost effective and takes only seconds.

Shelter workers are at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning when they unload the gas chamber, breathing in low levels of the gas on a regular basis. This can lead to many health problems, and even death. Counties are at risk of lawsuits from these workers if they become ill. Carbon monoxide is also extremely flammable, odorless, colorless, and difficult to detect.

The Humane Society of the United States, American Humane, American Veterinary Medical Association, National Animal Control Association, the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights all advocate lethal injection of sodium pentobarbitol. It is considered the most humane, safest, and least stressful choice for euthanasia.

In 1872, a Pennsylvania SPCA took the first pound contract in the United States, and took over the work of taking in stray dogs and introduced a gas chamber to replace old, slow, more painful practices of killing stray animals. The older accepted methods of killing companion animals was shooting, burying, and drowning. A gas chamber compared to these other, older barbaric means could certainly be considered an improvement, at that time.

Gassing human prisoners was originally proposed by Dr. Allen McLean Hamilton, a toxicologist, who suggested an execution method that would be more humane than hanging or shooting, which were the choices offered to condemned men in Nevada in the early part of the century. The first convict to be gassed on February 8, 1924, Gee Jong, had his lawyers fighting a battle in courts to show that gassing was a “cruel and unusual punishment” and was illegal under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

Prisoners are advised to take deep breaths to shorten their suffering – the luxury of instructions companion animals do not understand. Witnesses of human gas chamber executions have described the scene as “extreme horror, pain and strangling.” It is difficult nowadays to imagine a more cruel, expensive or dangerous (to the staff and witnesses) method of execution than gassing.

* The American Civil Liberties Union took the California Department of Corrections to court in San Francisco in 1994 on behalf of 375 condemned inmates on San Quentin’s death row, saying that the gas chamber violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment because it inflicts needless pain and suffering.

* District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled on October 5th, 1994 that the gas chamber is an inhumane method of punishment and thus outlawed the practice in California.

* On February 21st, 1996, a 3-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the ruling that gas chamber executions in California violated the 8th Amendment to the Constitution because there was a risk that an inmate could suffer “horrible pain” for up to several minutes.

“The district court’s findings of extreme pain, the length of time this extreme pain lasts, and the substantial risk that inmates will suffer this extreme pain for several minutes require the conclusion that execution by lethal gas is cruel and unusual,” Judge Harry Pregerson wrote.

“This decision is the death knell for the gas chamber in the United States,” predicted Michael Laurence, an attorney who fought to stop the use of the gas chamber.

Of the 38 states with capital punishment only 5 still allow use of this method and offer legal injection as an option.

Most notoriously, gas chambers were used in the Nazi Third Reich during the 1930s as part of the so-called “public euthanasia program” aimed at eliminating physically and intellectually disabled people. The Nazi’s perfected the gas chamber to maximize the efficiency of killing massive amounts of people in the most cost effective way possible (the industrial age was yet to be in full swing).

More recently, harrowing first-hand testimonies from North Korean defectors have detailed execution and torture, and now chilling evidence has emerged that the walls of Camp 22 in Haengyong hide an even more evil secret: gas chambers where horrific chemical experiments are conducted on human beings. Witnesses have described watching entire families being put in glass chambers and gassed. They are left to an agonising death while scientists take notes. The allegations offer the most shocking glimpse so far of Kim Jong-il’s North Korean regime.

In addition, lethal injection is cheaper! A study conducted by the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society in September 2000 concluded that for a jurisdiction euthanizing 10,000 animals per year, the yearly cost of gassing averages $13,230 (excluding the cost of intravenous injection as a back-up method) and that the yearly cost of euthanasia by intravenous injection averages $12,700.

Knowing that lethal injection is considered the only humane way to end the life of a man or woman sentenced to death for convicting a heinous crime, wouldn’t we want to extend this kindness to our overpopulated companion animals? Our best friends? Our little buddies that are not convicts but domesticated creatures that look longingly towards us to take of them the best way we know how?

Please help and join the “Killing With Kindness” – An Act of Compassion
One campaign. One goal: A U.S. FEDERAL law for the HUMANE euthanasia of surplus, homeless companion animals. One result: Putting an end to the cruel killing! For more information and a sample letter, please see:

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One thought on “Gas Chambers: A History and Overview”

  1. Please stop this cruel and inhumane torture…… Let us behave like caring human beings.

    Would you want your companion living being killed this way?

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