Reports of advancements in emergency department operative resuscitative skills have included craniotomy, thoracotomy, cardiorrhaphy and even cardiopulmonary bypass. The efficacy and advisability of laparotomy in the emergency department remain in question. Between July, 1972, and July, 1977, adhering to an established protocol, resuscitative laparotomy was performed on 51 patients in the emergency department. All 51 patients underwent emergency thoracotomy also. Twenty-four patients were victims of gunshot wounds, 24 had sustained blunt trauma, and three had abdominal stab wounds. Injuries to the liver, major vessels, and spleen were most common. Control of hemorrhage by clamps, packs or pressure was the primary objective of laparotomy. Control of exsanguinating hemorrhage with precise application of vascular clamps was possible in all but 15 patients. Because of extensive multiple injuries and inability to achieve cardiovascular stability, only 11 patients reached the operating room, and none survived to leave the hospital. Although technically possible, laparotomy in the emergency center did not alter the fatal outcome of moribund patients in this series.