A preliminary report is presented of a prospective randomized trial conducted by eight cooperative institutions under the auspices of the National Heart and Lung Institute to compare the effectiveness of medical and surgical therapy in the management of the acute stages of unstable angina pectoris. To date 150 patients have been included in the randomized trial, 80 assigned to medical and 70 to surgical therapy; the clinical presentation, coronary arterial anatomy and left ventricular function in the two groups are similar. Some physicians have been reluctant to prescribe medical or surgical therapy by a random process, and the ethical basis of the trial has been questioned. Since there are no hard data regarding the natural history and outcome of therapy for unstable angina pectoris, randomization appears to provide a rational way of selecting therapy. Furthermore, subsets of patients at high risk may emerge during the process of randomization. The design of this randomized trial is compared with that of another reported trial. Thus far, the study has shown that it is possible to conduct a randomized trial in patients with unstable angina pectoris, and that the medical and surgical groups have been similar in relation to the variables examined. The group as a whole presented with severe angina pectoris, either as a crescendo pattern or as new onset of angina at rest, and 84 percent had recurrence of pain while in the coronary care unit and receiving vigorous medical therapy. It is anticipated that sufficient patients will have been entered into the trial within the next 12 months to determine whether medical or surgical therapy is superior in the acute stages of unstable angina pectoris.