Bill would make eyeball tattooing illegal in state

Madeline Coats
WNPA Olympia News Bureau

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would prohibit scleral tattooing, otherwise known as "eyeball tattooing," the practice of scarring or inserting pigment onto the human eye.
House Bill 1856 is co-sponsored by 17 representatives and introduced by Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend.
“This is odd, but it’s not a joke,” Tharinger said at a public hearing Wednesday. “In a moment of irrationality, someone might choose to get their sclera tattooed.”
According to the bill, the sclera is the white outer coating of the eye. The tough, fibrous tissue extends from the cornea to the optic nerve at the back of the eye.
Dr. Aaron Lee, a retina surgeon, testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Washington Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons. He is a certified ophthalmologist and cares for patients with retinal detachment and infections.
“Sclera tattooing is the procedure where somebody takes a needle or a knife and injects dye into the white part of the eye,” Lee said.
Someone without proper medical and surgical training or correct instruments could easily allow the needle to go inside the eye and damage the retina, he said. This procedure can cause retinal detachment or infection, which is a life-altering blinding event and may result in removing an eye completely.
Under the bill, eyeball tattoo artists would be subject to a civil penalty determined by the court. Complaints may be filed against individuals who perform scleral tattooing with the state Attorney General to investigate and prosecute the allegations.
Canada has already banned this procedure, Lee said.
“As it’s becoming more popular, we’re starting to see reports of the consequences of these things not only in the news media, but also in our medical literature,” he said. “I don’t think we should wait to see somebody go blind.”