The term ‘bioethics’ was coined in 1926, yet the field itself did not emerge until the 1970s. Although my 1975 university thesis (Prospects for Genetic Therapy in Man) reviewed ethical concerns, it took a further four decades before gene therapy was successful in people. More recently, some developments in biomedical technology have accelerated beyond moral or principled boundaries. Among the most shocking was last November’s revelation that the premature and reckless application of human-embryo genome editing had given rise to twin babies in China. That led to calls for a global moratorium (see Nature 566, 440–442; 2019).

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