Grill the Senator: Hon. Ignazio Marino

On April 16, 2012, the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs had the pleasure of hosting Senator Ignazio Marino, member of Italy’s Partito Democratico (PD) and Chair of the Senate’s Public Health System Committee. JCU President Franco Pavoncello introduced the audience to Senator Marino’s background as one of the top liver transplant surgeons in the world and his involvement with the ethical issues of medicine.

Elaborating on his own career trajectory, Senator Marino began his talk by explaining his childhood dream of becoming a transplant surgeon, his international medical education obtained both in the U.K. as well as in the U.S. (Pittsburgh University Clinic) where he came to practice, and his eventual return to Italy and entrance into politics. Interestingly, the senator explained that he became familiar with American politics through working at a government-owned medical transplant hospital for veterans in Pittsburgh, which involved making frequent phone calls to politicians to discuss funding. Although making a note of the problems of readjusting to life back in Italy after having spent multiple years abroad, Senator Marino stressed throughout his talk the invaluable experience he gained by living outside of his home country and suggested that all people should take time in their lives to do so.

Next, the senator touched on his return to Italy, at which time many suggested he enter politics due to his vast experience of health care systems in other countries. Though first touching on the “undemocratic nature” of Italian representational government in regard to the party selection of candidates, Senator Marino moved on to explain some of his successes in office, beginning with his placement as number one on the lists for the PD at the time. Building on his experiences as a surgeon and taking note of the brain drain taking place in his country (of which he was once a part), the senator successfully managed to establish a peer review system for young scientists, helping to build the foundation of opportunity in the sciences that he believed Italy could improve upon.

Senator Marino also pointed out what he felt made the Italian system of health care better than that of the U.S., primarily based on the more equitable coverage provided by the universal Italian system. Illuminating the ideological difference between European and many American politicians, the senator shared a poignant anecdote of a single mother he met in the U.S. who was at first denied treatment at his facility for not having insurance and explained how difficult it is for a European to understand the American assertion that one should have the right to not purchase health care.

The audience posed questions ranging from the senator’s opinion regarding the future return of Italy’s brain drain to his views concerning public vs. private campaign financing. Answering as many questions as he could, one central theme to several responses was the lack of equality of opportunity in Italy compared to the United States and the United Kingdom, though things have changed for the worse in these two countries as of late as well. Explaining that often times the best person for a job is not necessarily hired due to the connections or family status of other applicants, Senator Marino connected this as one of the prime push factors of the emigration of young, qualified Italian workers.