State legislation would ban embedding jewelry in eyes

Saturday, March 5, 2005

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Some Illinois lawmakers want to make sure the twinkle in your eye doesn't come from jewelry.

In a bizarre move in body modification, a handful of Europeans have had tiny metal hearts and half-moons surgically embedded in the whites of their eyes.

State Rep. Kevin Joyce was repulsed when he heard about the practice and is now pushing to keep it from ever reaching Illinois. He has proposed banning the practice, and a House committee has approved legislation that would make it a felony to implant jewelry in someone's eye.

"I thought it was pretty gross and pretty unsafe for kids," Joyce said Friday. "I don't think anybody should be messing with the eyeball."

The procedure involves making a tiny slice in the membrane covering the eye and slipping in a small, flat piece of metal. The result in a shiny shape in the white of the eye.

The procedure is performed under local anesthetic, can cost thousands of dollars.

Dr. Janak Koirala, assistant professor of medicine at Southern Illinois University, said he had only recently heard of the procedure but was concerned about the possibility of infection or other damage to the eye.

"It's a pretty risky procedure," Koirala said. "It's not like piercing the skin."

He said the risks would last however long the person kept the jewelry in their eye.

Joyce, a Chicago Democrat, said the issue "caught my eye, no pun intended" in news reports about a Dutch institute offering the procedure. He worried that it might catch on in the United States and reach Illinois.

But a Springfield tattoo artist said lawmakers are giving the procedure more attention than it merits.

"It seems like they're starting to get worked up about something that isn't really a problem," said Kevin Veara, the 43-year-old owner of Black Moon Tattoos. "Most people in the Midwest, when it comes to body modification, are very conservative."

As tattoos become more mainstream, people in Europe and the U.S. coasts are undergoing more daring and possibly dangerous body modifications, such as larger and deeper piercings through various body parts, he said.

"It's like you're not a freak anymore if you have a tattoo," Veara said. "To be a freak you've got to step up a little bit."

A House judiciary committee approved Joyce's bill 11-4 Thursday. It now awaits a vote by the full House.

The bill is HB481.

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