Genetic literacy is coming into use as a shorthand term for the educational goals of the Human Genome Programme. This chapter examines the motives of some of the main proponents of genetic literacy, and their views (implicit or explicit) about how it might be defined. It is suggested that prevailing models of genetic literacy share the flaw of the parent concept-scientific literacy-in its use as a shorthand for the requirements of a general public understanding of science. That is, they are top- down, prescriptive models, which assume that scientists and other experts get to define what people need to know. I then discuss whether the term can be modified for use in contexts where people who might need access to genetic information play a role in defining what they want to know, and how they can be helped to find out. This is related to future research in the field.