Robert Klitzman

Am I My Genes? Confronting Fate and Family Secrets in the Age of Genetic Testing

Genetic testing is rapidly spreading; every year dozens of new tests are developed which analyze our genetically inherited predisposition toward certain diseases. Companies have sprung up which will provide inexpensive online testing of your genetic profile via a simple cheek swab. This testing is also moving from analyzing a small portion of DNA to a personís entire genome. On the plus side, genetics is rapidly enhancing our understanding and treatment of disease, such as Huntingtonís, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, breast cancer, and Alzheimerís. Testing of infants and pregnant mothers can detect disorders early, and the manipulation of genes in stem cells is helping to provide new treatments. Drugs are developed that are personalized for a specific individualís genetic profile. Genetics will likely be for the 21st century medicine what antiobiotics was for the 20th.

For all the inevitable progress however, this knowledge presents ever new dilemmas for patients. Countless people wrestle with fear and apprehension about whether to get tested, and if so, what they should do with the information. In this volume, the psychiatrist Robert Klitzman explores how individuals confront these complex issues in their daily lives. He has interviewed a wide range of people who are at risk for various genetic diseases, and the volume collects and reflects on their experiences grappling with quandries like: whether to get tested; to whom to disclose their genetic risks (spouses, parents, employers); what treatments to pursue; whether to have children knowing that genetic diseases may be inherited; and whether or not our destiny is ultimately what is in our genes. These are difficult, complicated ethical and sometimes metaphysical questions that are also embedded in intricate social contexts -- the family, the clinic, and the world at large. Klitzmanís gripping presentation of the human face of these new technologies is important, useful, and ultimately compelling, since these patients are pioneers in whose path most of us will eventually follow.

Selected works

Non-fiction book
"This is a detailed first look at a critical aspect of U.S. medicine that may not mesmerize causal readers, but should prove indispensable for reform." - Publishers Weekly
Fresh from medical school, Robert Klitzman began his residency in psychiatry with excitement and a sense of mission. But he was not prepared for what he found inside the city psychiatric center where he was to spend three grueling years. In truth, as Dr. Klitzman's absorbing account of his apprenticeship reveals, he never ceased to be surprised--by his patients, by the senior psychiatrists' conflicting advice on how to help them, and by the unpredictable results of the therapies, both psychoanalytic and biologic, that he and his fellow residents practiced. Nights in the emergency room, professional controversy, the minefield of hospital politics, the stress of his own therapy--everything is here, in a passionate and illuminating analysis of a doctor's struggle against tremendous odds to banish his patients' demons. [AN] INSIGHTFUL MEMOIR . . . RECOMMENDED." --Library Journal
"[Klitzman's] sensitive, humanist approach converts information into knowledge."
--Andrew Solomon, author of Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
"Klitzman's work is an important contribution to physical training and patient care. The wisdom shared in When Doctors Become Patients holds potential to make all physicians better caregivers."--JAMA
"...a book for anyone desiring to move forward in the fight against the illness, not the people."
--Erica Prigg, Health Communication
New York Times article
Op-Ed essay on the death of Osama Bin Laden
".. a briskly engaging and informative work."
--Publishers Weekly
"There are extraordinary moments...[The book] describe[s] the tension between the endless stress and the fantastic learning curve of his Year-long Night.
--Washington Post