Percutaneous Transhepatic Biliary Drainage (PTBD) is performed in surgical jaundice to decompress the biliary tree and improve hepatic functions. However, the risk of sepsis is high in these patients due to immunosuppression and surgical outcome remains poor. This raises a question--can we do away with PTBD? To answer this query a study was carried out in 4 groups of patients bearing in mind the high incidence of sepsis and our earlier studies, which have demonstrated immunotherapeutic potential of Tinospora cordifolia (TC): (A) those undergoing surgery without PTBD (n = 14), (B) those undergoing surgery after PTBD (n = 13). The mortality was 57.14% in Group A as compared to 61.54% in Group B. Serial estimations of bilirubin levels carried out during the course of drainage (3 Wks) revealed a gradual and significant decrease from 12.52 +/- 8.3 mg% to 5.85 +/- 3.0 mg%. Antipyrine half-life did not change significantly (18.35 +/- 4.2 hrs compared to basal values 21.96 +/- 3.78 hrs). The phagocytic and intracellular killing (ICK) capacities of PMN remained suppressed (Basal: 22.13 +/- 3.68% phago. and 19.1 +/- 4.49% ICK; Post drainage: 20 +/- 8.48% Phago and 11.15 +/- 3.05% ICK). Thus PTBD did not improve the metabolic capacity of the liver and mortality was higher due to sepsis. Group (C) patients received TC during PTBD (n = 16) and Group (D) patients received TC without PTBD (n = 14). A significant improvement in PMN functions occurred by 3 weeks in both groups (30.29 +/- 4.68% phago, 30 +/- 4.84% ICK in Group C and 30.4 +/- 2.99% phago, 27.15 +/- 6.19% ICK in Group D). The mortality in Groups C and D was 25% and 14.2% respectively during the preoperative period. There was no mortality after surgery. It appears from this study that host defenses as reflected by PMN functions play an important role in influencing prognosis. Further decompression of the biliary tree by PTBD seems unwarranted.