In researching last week’s post on the crazy Arkansas bill outlawing certain types of mods, I became a little concerned. If this can happen in the so-called “land of the free”, what is stopping it from happening here?
A lot, apparently. Canada does not have any federal laws regarding body modification, and even the strictest of provincial laws merely prevent shops from offering services to those under 16. Legal guidelines are restricted to the health and safety side of things (laws that we can all get behind), ensuring clean equipment, hygienic procedures, and proper ventilation are used.
But these are laws that apply in the U.S. as well – so I decided to dig in a little more, and examine our laws regarding freedom of expression. Section 2b of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants us all “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication”. What counts as free expression is a bit vague, but the Charter goes on to explain that the only restriction on this right is overt hate speech or public calls for violence – this could potentially interfere with your decision to get Nazi propaganda tattooed on your forehead, but even that would be a legal stretch.
Judging by some of the more frivolous Canadian lawsuits, and proposed bills, in recent years, and the swiftness with which they were shot down, Canadians can, at least for now, rest easy. As of today, not a single proposed law regarding the freedom to alter one’s body has been passed.
And that, my tattooed and pierced friends, is just another reason why Canada is awesome.
Remember that whole “constitution” thing? Arkansas apparently doesn’t. Last week, in an astonishing 26-4 vote, the Arkansas Senate passed a bill that will ban “non-traditional” body art and implants. Included in that definition is scarification, branding, and dermal implants/microdermals. The bill was sponsored by Senator Missy Irvin, and was passed quietly last Tuesday. It still needs to be passed by the House of Representatives, and many speculate that is where it will die, but that does little to ease the minds of many – body modification enthusiasts, civil rights groups, and anyone that places any value on the freedom of expression are understandably irate that this bill was not only proposed, but passed by such a huge majority.
In a day and age where body art is widely accepted and the freedom to express oneself is viciously defended, it’s hard to see this bill as anything but a major step backwards. It’s even harder to understand the reasoning behind it. Senators involved in the bill have done very little to explain their positions, or even offer a reason that this was an “issue” they felt needed addressing. One thing is certain, though – if this bill passes the House, it will set a worrying precedent. Many argue that the government already has too much control over our personal lives – permitting them to tell us how we can (and cannot) adorn our own bodies is a very slippery slope.
We will be keeping an eye on this bill, and posting updates on its progress.
The answer to that question may seem obvious – but it isn’t. The last 40 years or so have seen a huge growth in people making their physical ailments and desires known by way of tattoo, but the question of whether those tattoos have any legal validity or not has remained unclear.
A pathologist quoted in the Huffington Post last year himself has “NO CPR” tattooed in the centre of his chest, to indicate his wishes to any medical professional that may see it, but the same article states that, in the U.S. at least, medical tattoos carry very little legal weight, and that paramedics would likely still perform CPR on the patient, unless a legal “do not resuscitate” document was also found. Lawyer Cheryl David agrees: her website advises that no American states have laws that address medical tattoos, and that a medic would most likely err on the side of caution. An American Paramedics group takes that statement even further, making clear that they are not trained to look for medical tattoos, and wouldn’t even begin trying to interpret one in the case of an emergency – DNR could mean “do not resuscitate”, for example, but it could also be your husband’s initials, or your favourite band. Despite this all sounding like a very resounding “no” to the question of legal validity, it’s unfortunately not that straightforward. Medic alert tattoos have become common enough that some doctors are actually recommending them to patients – particularly diabetics, and those with life-threatening allergies. Dr. Aldasouqi of Michigan State, who has written about and long been interested in medical tattooing, admits that the guidelines are unclear, and expresses concern that ignoring this trend “leave(s) our patients kind of afloat”. He is working to bring together the medical and tattoo professions to develop a legally recognized standard for these sorts of tattoos so that American medics will know what to look for.
As for Canada, finding even vague information proves difficult. Canadian MedicAlert Foundation CEO Robert Ridge last year told the CBC “it doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but there’s a few issues that we have with it”, reiterating concerns that paramedics are not trained to look for them. As for their legal status, no one seems to know for sure. Different medical associations have various views, and there is no reference to medical tattoos in Canadian law. Tattoo artists, also likely to err on the side of caution, will gladly give you a medical tattoo, but will advise that they do not replace legal documents.
So, what’s the story? Will your “diabetic” tattoo be taken seriously or not? What about the biggie – “DNR”? The general consensus seems to be that if a medical professional happens to see it, and if it is extremely clear and matches what would be found on a MedicAlert bracelet, and if it simply advises of a condition, rather than asking you not be treated, it might be respected. When it comes to “no CPR” or “DNR” orders, however, the only ink that matters is that on a legal document, signed by both you and your doctor.