BACKGROUND: In Norway, every year more than 3000 persons suffer sudden cardiac death caused by ventricular fibrillation. The present recommendations of international expert committees are that the use of public-access defibrillators should be encouraged, including training of non-medical personnel. MATERIAL AND METHOD: In order to evaluate the validity of such recommendations, we performed searches in Medline on relevant keywords and evaluated articles thus identified and their references. We selected studies on countries, cities, public access defibrillator projects, and on epidemiology of cardiac arrest and ventricular fibrillation. RESULTS: Studies of the public-access defibrillation strategy reported the highest frequencies of survival. Studies from cities gave highly variable results; those for entire countries poor results. Different populations have different results of survival, and commonly used predictor models do not comprehensibly explain these findings. Over time there is a falling frequency of ventricular fibrillation as the cause of cardiac arrest. INTERPRETATION: Application of the strategy of public-access defibrillators will not result in significantly improved survival from cardiac arrest in Norway.