The fetus with severe bilateral hydronephrosis and associated oligohydramnios in the second trimester is doomed at birth by ongoing pulmonary and renal damage. Since decompression with percutaneously placed catheters is not dependable for long periods, we have developed anesthetic, surgical, and tocolytic techniques for open fetal urinary tract decompression in animals, and have now applied those techniques to a small group of five patients. One had bilateral ureterostomies and the subsequent four had marsupialization of the bladder. All pregnancies proceeded to cesarean delivery at 32 to 35 weeks' gestation. There was no long-term maternal morbidity, and two mothers have since experienced normal pregnancies. Three fetuses had return of normal amniotic fluid dynamics, and all three had adequate pulmonary function at birth, suggesting that fatal pulmonary hypoplasia associated with early severe oligohydramnios had been reversed. Two neonates died at birth with pulmonary hypoplasia. One had no amniotic fluid even after decompression, and the other had some amniotic fluid after decompression but a tiny chest cavity due to the long period of severe oligohydramnios before decompression. Of the three surviving infants, one had normal renal function when she died of unrelated causes at 9 months of age. One has normal renal function at 23 months and the third had failing renal function at 21/2 years and has grown and developed normally, but will require renal transplantation. We have now developed selection criteria that would exclude from treatment the two fetuses who died of pulmonary hypoplasia and the one who developed renal failure. Our initial limited experience suggests the following: (1) that open fetal surgery is safe in experienced hands and the risks of open fetal surgery can be minimized by extensive prepatory experimental work; (2) that in a few highly selected cases, open decompression can restore amniotic fluid dynamics and is efficacious in preventing pulmonary hypoplasia at birth; and (3) that the effect of decompression on the development of renal dysplasia and ultimate renal function remans unknown.