A bill that would change the method of capital punishment in Virginia from electrocution to lethal injection passed the Senate yesterday despite arguments against it from senators whose views ranged from opposing any form of death penalty to those who think the electric chair should be retained.

The 27-to-12 vote sends the bill to the House for consideration.

The measure was sponsored by Sen. John C. Chichester (R-Stafford), who said that while he favors capital punishment, lethal injection is more humane than electrocution and would be easier on those related to the killer who had nothing to do with the murder that prompted the punishment.

Chichester said 19 states employ lethal injection, either as the sole method of execution or as an option to another method.

Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Mount Vernon), a capital punishment foe, warned that "we must never become comfortable with capital punishment," because "it is not a long step {from there} to becoming comfortable with the deaths of good people."

Sen. Frank W. Nolen (D-Augusta) urged that electrocution be retained, saying the state should reserve its concerns "for the families of the victims."

Noting that the century-old penitentiary here will be shut down in 1990, necessitating relocation of the death chamber, Nolen said, "The old chair might have to be moved, but it's not broken. It's made of sturdy oak."