The use of home parenteral nutrition (HPN) in patients with inoperable malignant bowel obstruction (IMBO) is controversial. The efficacy, safety, and indications for HPN in these patients is uncertain, and its benefit is difficult to demonstrate. The records of 17 patients (9, ovarian cancer; 4, colon cancer; 4, other) with IMBO receiving HPN managed by the Nutrition Support Team (NST) at Yale-New Haven Hospital from 1980 to 1989 were reviewed. Median survival was 53 days and was longest in the two patients with appendiceal carcinomatosis (208 and 159 days), intermediate in patients with colon cancer (median 90 days), and shortest in patients with ovarian cancer (median 39 days). Survival was unrelated to age or sex. All patients died of their underlying disease; 82% of deaths occurred at home. Only one treatment-related complication requiring readmission occurred. Fourteen patients and their families (82%) perceived their therapy as highly beneficial or beneficial. The NST agreed with this assessment in 11 patients but did not share this perception in three patients. These three patients had a short duration of HPN (less than 25 days) or minimal rehabilitation. It is concluded that HPN for patients with IMBO is associated with a low complication rate, may be most beneficial for those patients with gastrointestinal tract primary tumors, and is usually perceived by patients and care providers as beneficial. HPN has palliative benefit and facilitates compassionate home care for carefully selected patients with IMBO.