The ability of lay persons to learn and retain defibrillation skills using an automatic external defibrillator (AED) was assessed. Thirty-four family members of cardiac arrest survivors were trained in CPR techniques and defibrillation, and evaluated for performance of skills immediately following training and at six-week and three-month follow-ups. All but two were successfully trained to complete three cycles of CPR interspersed with three defibrillatory shocks in an average of four minutes with the first shock delivered in an average of two minutes. Although there were decrements in the speed and quality of performance at each follow-up period (P less than .01), we conclude that most lay persons can learn to operate an AED safely and under simulated conditions provide defibrillatory shocks an average of eight minutes faster than typical response times of emergency medical technicians. These results suggest that AEDs can be placed in many homes of patients at high risk for cardiac arrest.