A good parent's worst fear might be scarring his or her child for life. Imagine their surprise if their children chose to do it to themselves.

Such a scenario was the impetus behind a locally authored bill that would make it illegal to perform human branding on a person under 18 years old without the consent of a parent, as is the law with piercing and tattooing.

State Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, said he fielded a call from an upset dad who had researched the potential legal recourse from a scarring incident and found nothing on the current law books that applied.

The man's son, 13 or 14 at the time, went to a sleepover at a classmate's house. After a discussion about human branding, the classmate's 18-year-old sibling showed the younger boy how to heat a 16 Penny nail — a thick, 3.5-inch-long nail used for framing houses, Gillespie said.

"So he heated this thing up, cherry red, and applied it to his own abdomen ... under the tutelage of this 18-year-old," Gillespie said. "Then he did it a second time and made a cross. Within a few days, his mother discovered it and said, 'Oh, my god'."

Ancient practice: Throughout history, human branding has been used for everything from tribal ritual to the sordid: punishment of thieves and identification of human slaves.

The technique has re-emerged as a unique form of body modification, though there's apparently not much local demand.

About a dozen York County tattoo and piercing studios called to comment on the bill said they don't perform branding and they don't know anyone who does.

Westside Ink tattooist Dan Botterbusch said he only recalls one person ever asking for branding over his seven years as a tattoo artist.

The West York studio won't perform a branding because of concerns about the client being susceptible to infection from the harsh burn, and Botterbusch said the law makes common sense.

There's a lot of post-procedure care required, even for tattoos, and a young teen might not be as attentive as he or she should be, he said.

Neglecting a new tattoo might lead to fading and aesthetic issues, while failure to care for a burn could cause a serious infection.

"A brand is a lot harsher and there's a lot more that can go wrong," Botterbusch said.

Gillespie, a former paramedic, said health concerns were among his reasons for introducing the bill.

"Our skin is our protective barrier ... and when you go through and violate that barrier, you're opening yourself to some nasty things, up to and including death," he said.

The bill: The measure, House Bill 55, recently passed from the House Judiciary Committee with unanimous support, including that of Rep. Mike Regan, R-Carroll Township, who serves on the committee. It's awaiting a vote before the full House.

The legislation amends the statute in the Crimes Code section on tattooing and body piercing to include a prohibition on "engaging in human branding of a person under 18 years of age" without the consent of a parent.

It'll be graded as a third-degree misdemeanor for the first offense, with additional offenses potentially graded higher.

The bill is co-sponsored by Majority Whip Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, and Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.