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Gas chamber euthanasia — do Utah animal shelters still use it and should it be banned?

Utah Legislature discussing bill to ban gas chamber euthanasia

SHARE Gas chamber euthanasia — do Utah animal shelters still use it and should it be banned?
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Katherine Heigl and Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, speak at a press conference about gas chamber euthanasia of animals in shelters at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. Heigl, a longtime animal advocate, wants to see the end of gas chambers in Utah.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Actress and Utah resident Katherine Heigl came out in support of legislation to end the gas chamber as a form of euthanasia in animal shelters, which she describes as being “inhumane” and equivalent to “torture.”

Heigl said she didn’t understand the relevance of the issue until she saw a video of animals dying in a gas chamber.

“It can take up to 20 to 30 minutes for the animal to die,” she said at a press conference Wednesday at the Utah state Capitol. And in the meantime, the animals “fight and claw and fight with each other to try and get out. It’s painful.”

Utah is one of a handful of states that still allows gas chamber euthanasia to be used in animal shelters.

Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, is sponsoring a bill, SB108, that would prohibit all Utah animal shelters from using gas chambers.

“Utah has moved more towards no-kill shelters, and now we’re eliminating gas chambers,” McKell said. “We’re moving in a positive direction.

Heigl, the founder of the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, an organization dedicated to animal welfare, advocated for a similar bill, SB69, in last year’s legislative session.

That bill stalled after the Utah Sheriffs’ Association opposed the legislation, leading it to die on the floor, McKell said.

Katherine Heigl speaks at a press conference about gas chamber euthanasia of animals in shelters at the Capitol in Salt Lake City.

Katherine Heigl speaks at a press conference about gas chamber euthanasia of animals in shelters at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. Heigl, a longtime animal advocate, wants to see the end of gas chambers in Utah.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

When SB69 was proposed last year, only two shelters in Utah used the gas chamber as a method of euthanasia.

North Utah Valley Animal Shelter in Lindon, one of the facilities that used the gas chamber , shut it down, leaving only the South Valley Animal Shelter in Spanish Fork still using one.

McKell, however, says the South Valley shelter, which is in his district, no longer provides that service. But he said even one animal death in a gas chamber “is too many.”

McKell said other states are using humane methods of euthanasia, and that “it’s not the Utah way,” to simply wait for a federal ban. “We’re better than that,” he said.

Heigl added, “We say that 3,500 shelters across the United States do not use them ... this is a bit of a black mark (for Utah), this incredibly sacred place.”

“I believe our animals that are voiceless and are innocent deserve the consideration and care, and that is a mark of a civilized society,” she said.

Heigl also said “humane euthanasia” — an injection — is more cost effective for the state because it is less expensive than a gas chamber.

Gas chambers, McKell said, are “the least humane way,” to euthanize an animal, adding it’s an issue most people haven’t thought about.

“Most shelters are not using the gas chamber,” he said, and it creates an out-of-sight, out-of-mind scenario.