Bill prohibits eyeball tattoos

‘Not a joke,’ says Tharinger

OLYMPIA — A bill introduced in the House would prohibit scleral tattooing, otherwise known as 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,” said Tharinger at a public hearing on Wednesday. “In a moment of irrationality, someone might choose to get their sclera tattooed.”

Tharinger represents District 24, which covers Jefferson and Clallam counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

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.

Violators would be subject to a civil penalty determined by the court, the bill states. Complaints may be filed against individuals who perform scleral tattooing with the state Attorney General to investigate and prosecute the allegations, as referenced in HB 1856.

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.”

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This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

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