In 1965, when the first issue of Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health appeared, medical ethics was just becoming established as a discipline. The sub-speciality of paediatric ethics did not make an appearance until the late 1980s, with the first key texts appearing in the 1990s. Professional concern to practice ethically in paediatrics obviously goes much further back than that, even if not named as such. In clinical areas of paediatrics, the story of the last 50 years is essentially a story of progress – better understanding of disease, better diagnosis, more effective treatment, better outcomes. In paediatric ethics, the story of the last 50 years is a bit more complicated. In ethics, the idea of progress, rather than just change, is not so straightforward and is sometimes hotly contested. There has certainly been change, including some quite radical shifts in attitudes and practices, but on some issues, the ethical debate now looks remarkably similar to that of 40–50 years ago. This is the story of some things that have changed in paediatric ethics, some things that have stayed the same and the key ethical ideas lying beneath the surface.