We are currently in the midst of a revolution in our understanding of human disease. The greater understanding that has been achieved of many inherited diseases is giving insights into many more common conditions not previously regarded as ‘inherited’. An individual can be identified from a DNA fingerprint obtained from the analysis of a very small DNA sample in a hair root, mouth wash or a blood spot. By the turn of the century, we will know the sequences of most, if not all, human genes. We will have the ‘recipe’ of human life. We may not be able to develop treatments for some years, but we will have the tools for identifying those predisposed to disease. Although the use of genetic tests raises many social, ethical, legal and economic issues, this potential is already with us and we cannot ignore it. Society should already openly be debating the implications of genetic knowledge so that the enormous benefits to human health can be gained without too many suffering from misuse of the technology.