As they tabled a bill to restrict the practice of tattooing in the territory, Senate Health Committee members Wednesday did a little needling of their own.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Adelbert Bryan, said he wanted to limit to licensed physicians the right to apply body art. Sen. Anne Golden and other opponents of the measure said they would rather see doctors stick it to their patients in the ways they know best.
Tattooing and body piercing have in recent years become fads among young people and a lucrative business for folks like Luc Zeitek, who attended the hearing accompanied by attorney Adriane Dudley.
Dr. Lucien Moolenaar, representing Health Commissioner Wilbur Callender, agreed with Bryan's concerns about the observance of sound health practices by tattoo artists. However, he expressed doubt that practice of the medical arts should include the graphic arts.
Bryan, pressing his point, said when a tattoo artist makes a mistake or the tattoo wearer gets bored, it's up to the doctors to clean up the mess. "If I had a girlfriend named Sally when I was in high school and I went to Mr. Zeitek, and now I'm married to Gerri, every day 'Sally' is appearing in her face. How I'm going to get off 'Sally' when I'm married to Gerri?" he said.
Golden, voicing her opposition to the bill, confessed a desire to have a tattoo of her own. Pledging to keep any such undertaking in the open, she told her colleagues, "I will put it in a place where everyone could see."
That, noted Sen. Lorraine Berry, is a position not shared by all tattoo and body piercing devotees.
"I would never put a tattoo on my body," she told her colleagues, "but I respect anybody's right to do it. I see a lot of people here piercing their nose, their ear, their lips, everything. . . Even in places we don't see, I hear that they pierce, they put earring and all sorts of things."
Offering her analysis of why this might be, she said, "I guess they're bored with life."
Although the tenor of testimony was often lighthearted in the Senate chamber, a St. Thomas skin specialist did offer some serious professional observations about tattooing in a radio report carried earlier in the day.
The two potential problems of tattooing are secondary infection and allergy to dye, Dr. Fletcher Robinson told Radio One. "In my experience, these things rarely happen," the dermatologist said. "I have had one patient who had a reaction to the red dye."
Robinson said the practice of tattooing should be regulated, so as to require training and good hygienic practices, including precautions against the transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus. But he said if the territory were to enact a ban on tattooing, it would be "the only jurisdiction in the United States" to do so.