Getting eyeball tattoos to be illegal in Washington state

Bill will ban the procedure of scleral tattooing

  • Wednesday, April 17, 2019 10:36am
  • News

By Emma Epperly, WNPA Olympia News Bureau

The state Senate voted on Tuesday to make the procedure of scleral tattooing illegal in Washington State. The bill passed the House on March 8 in a 94-4 vote.

Scleral tattooing is the process of scarring or inserting pigment into the human eye, typically the white of the eye. Sclera is the white outer coating of the eye and extends from the cornea to the optic nerve at the back of the eye.

Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, was the only member of the Senate to vote against the measure. Consenting adults should be able to do what they want, Wagoner said. He pointed to the fact that many dangerous activities are legal – like rock climbing for example – and to be “philosophically consistent” he voted against the measure.

House Bill 1856 would subject violators to a civil penalty determined by the court. The procedure is already banned in Indiana and Canada. The Department of Licensing could also take disciplinary action against tattoo artists who perform the procedure.

Dr. Aaron Lee, a retina surgeon, testified in support of the bill when it was in committee as a representative of the Washington Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons.

The main concern for Lee, which was echoed by legislators, is someone without the proper medical and surgical training or correct instruments could easily damage the retina. The procedure can cause retinal detachment and infection, which could blind the individual or even result in complete removal of the eye.

“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.”

The legislation now heads to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign it into law that will go into effect 90 days after the legislative session adjourns.

WNPA reporter Madeline Coats contributed to this report.


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