Thirty-five patients were randomized to extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy (ESWL) and 25 to laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC). Stone disappearance occurred in only 12 of 32 ESWL patients [38% (95% Cl: 21–56%)] during a 15-month follow-up. Greater incremental gains in quality of life after 6 months were observed among LC patients (p <.01). Total duration of disability was 6.8 ± 8.5 days for ESWL, and 22.7 ± 16.6 days for LC (p <.01). Nine (28%) patients crossed over electively to the LC group, but only 44% of these underwent LC within the next 3 years. ESWL cost Can $58.9/ day of disability saved. ESWL is limited by its selective applicability and modest stone disappearance rate. Its cost-effectiveness is largely dependent on patient acceptance of recurrent episodes of biliary colic due to the persistence of stone fragments.