Despite ongoing discussion of dialysis rationing in the nephrology community, there are little available data describing current practice in treatment selection for very ill renal patients with a poor prognosis. We report a prospective survey of end-stage renal patients referred to our Canadian regional dialysis center who were not accepted to the dialysis program on the grounds of poor prognosis and low quality of life. One quarter of patients referred during 1992 were not accepted to the program, with a mean age of 74 +/- 11 years. Patients were predominantly female and most suffered from a combination of renovascular and cardiovascular disease, with very poor functional capacity as determined by the Karnofsky scale. Nonacceptance to the dialysis program did not create legal difficulties or requests for second opinions. Based on our experience, we propose guidelines for nonacceptance of patients to dialysis programs.