In an era of progressive cost containment and public scrutiny, the wisdom of aggressive surgical therapy for high-risk candidates has been questioned. At our center in the previous 24 months, 728 patients with coronary artery disease were entered into The Society of Thoracic Surgeons national database, and the hospital outcomes plus length of stay were analyzed. Patients were separated according to the predicted mortality based on the groupings in The Society of Thoracic Surgeons database: 0 to 5% (453 patients); 5% to 10% (126 patients); 10% to 20% (96 patients); 20% to 30% (17 patients); and 30% and greater (36 patients). There was a close correlation with the predicted rates of mortality. Importantly, the preoperative risk stratification demonstrated a strong correlation with the significant morbidity and excessive length of stay in the highest-risk groups (predicted risk of 20% to > or = 30%). The incidences of the most common complications in the group with the highest predicted risk (> or = 30%) were 28%, renal failure; 33%, ventilator dependence; and 17%, cardiac arrest. In addition, at short-term follow-up (6 to 8 months), a 24.3% mortality was identified in patients with a predicted mortality that exceeded 20%. These data quantify the risks and morbidities associated with the care of seriously ill patients with coronary artery disease and demonstrate the need for professional and public discussions focusing on the association of a high preoperative risk status and the consumption of resources.