On Scene with Bill Wilson: Race for the Cure while Running for Mayor of Rome

Dr. Ignazio Marino was elected to the Italian Senate in 2006

Among the candidates running for mayor of Rome on May 26 and 27 is one with an interesting career previous to his political involvement. Ignazio Marino is a medical doctor who specialized in organ transplants. Although he has done over 650 in his career, the transplants for which he is most well known for involve HIV positive individuals. According to his wikipedia entry, confirmed by a brief exchange I had with him during the Race for the Cure Italia on May 19, he was involved in the first baboon to human liver transplants in 1992 and 1993. The first transplant recipient was a 35 year old HIV positive person who was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver as a result of Hepatitis B. Baboons were chosen as donors because they don’t respond to the hepatitis virus. The patient lived for 70 days on a regular hospital ward with nearly normal liver functions before he died.

In 2001 an HIV positive person came to him with a request for a kidney transplant after having been turned down by other transplant centers in Italy. He agreed to consider the request and eventually it was approved. That person is still alive and doing well. Dr. Marino said to me with obvious and justified pride, “He was a boy when he came to me and now he is a young man.”

Dr. Marino received much condemnation for his actions and was ordered not to perform any more transplants by Italy’s National Transplant Centre. Eventually the issue was reviewed and studied for three years before approval for more transplants for HIV positive individuals was given. They are now performed routinely in Italy.

When I told that I admired his courage in doing what was right he just smiled and said, “You have to do what is in your heart.”

I didn’t realize at that moment exactly how key that was to Dr. Marino’s political life as well. When I got home and did another Google search to make sure I was spelling his name correctly, I discovered that, as a candidate for Mayor of Rome, he is proposing civil unions for same sex couples. In a state like California where marriage equality was once a reality and we await the decision on Prop 8 from the United States Supreme Court, civil unions might not seem like such a big deal, but it is. In a country where then Prime Minister Berlusconi says in response to a scandal involving payment to an underage girl for sex says, “Well at least it proves I’m not gay.” It would be a very big deal to have any type of legal recognition for same sex couples, especially in the city of Rome, where there is a strong Vatican influence.

Dr. Marino is running as the nominee of the Partito Democratico, which is the center-left party. I haven’t seen any polls on the race so I don’t know how to assess his chances. If there is no one with over 50% in the first round of voting that takes place May 26 and 27, then a second run-off will take place two weeks later, June 7 and 8th between the two candidates who got the highest vote.

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