Copper-replacement treatment for symptomatic Menkes disease: ethical considerations

Clin Genet. 2005 Sep;68(3):278-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-0004.2005.00496.x.


We describe a child with classical Menkes disease with a novel ATP7A mutation, intractable seizures, severe hypotonia and developmental delay, hypopigmentation of the skin and hair, and failure to thrive, who was treated with daily subcutaneous copper histidine injections for 2(1/2) years, beginning at 15 months of age. He became seizure-free and pigmentation of his skin and hair darkened, but he continued to have severe developmental delays. His condition remains stable 8 months after stopping treatment. We review the ethical aspects of offering copper treatment for Menkes disease infants diagnosed after neurological symptoms become manifest. These include (1) the prospect for any benefits, (2) the potential risks and discomforts, (3) the parents' wishes with respect to treatment, (4) the family's understanding of the treatment's potential futility, (5) the family's understanding of the investigational nature of this treatment, (6) the potential for treatment to have an adverse impact on unaffected family members, (7) whether the ultimate decision regarding treatment should rest with health care providers or with the patient's parents, and (8) the duration of treatment. The ethical issues encountered in providing possibly futile treatment in this difficult disorder seem relevant to other pediatric medical conditions as well.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / genetics
  • Base Pair Mismatch
  • Base Sequence
  • Cation Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Consanguinity
  • Copper / therapeutic use*
  • Copper-Transporting ATPases
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Decision Making / ethics
  • Ethics, Clinical*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Menkes Kinky Hair Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Menkes Kinky Hair Syndrome / genetics
  • Patient Participation
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Risk Assessment / ethics


  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Copper
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases
  • ATP7A protein, human
  • Copper-Transporting ATPases