Fifty-one adult patients were referred for surgical treatment during the time period from July 1980 to November 1985. The average age was 59 +/- 6 years (19-70 years). All patients had symptomatic ventricular tachycardia that was refractory to standard or experimental drug therapy. On the basis of patient condition, site of arrhythmia, ventricular function, and extent of coronary disease, 21 patients were classed as good risk (GR) while 30 patients were thought to represent a poor surgical risk (PR). Thirty-two patients (15 GR, 17 PR) underwent electrophysiologic guided endocardial resection of arrhythmic foci. The hospital mortality was 12% (4/32), and two additional patients died late. All deaths were in poor risk patients. Recurrent arrhythmia was the primary cause of death in only one patient. Nineteen patients have required automatic internal cardioverter defibrillation (AICD) or chronic burst pacing (BP) with an implantable radiofrequency stimulator, with no operative mortality. AICD implantation was chosen for 13 drug refractory patients who were either poor surgical risk and/or had a tachycardia rate above 130 beats/minute with multiple scars or a multifocal tachycardia. Six additional patients who had tachycardia less than 130 beats/minute and whose arrhythmia could be safely terminated with BP had radiofrequency stimulator implantation. The one late death in this group was in a medically noncompliant patient. On the basis of this experience, we feel that map-guided endocardial resection should be offered to all good risk patients with a single scar and unifocal tachycardia who are refractory to medical treatment. This operation should be considered in all patients who have frequent, life-threatening attacks of tachycardia of any sort on maximum drug therapy. The remainder can be well managed with an AICD if their tachycardia rate is greater than 130 beats/minute or with BP using a radiofrequency stimulator.