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The application of free-electron lasers (FEL's) to biology and medicine has recently become an area of intensive activity. Because of this interest, there is a need for discussion of FEL's in the context of applications. In this paper, the operating characteristics of FEL's which are relevant to biomedical applications are reviewed. Assuming present-day FEL technology, the tradeoffs in FEL operating parameters for different types of biomedical applications are discussed. The long-term technical advances in FEL physics and technology which may have an important impact on the applications are described.