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A detailed 3-D finite element model of the conductive anatomy of the human thorax has been constructed to quantitatively assess the current density distribution produced in the heart and thorax during transthoracic defibrillation. The model is based on a series of cross-sectional CT scans and incorporates isotropic conductivities for eight tissues and an approximation of the anisotropic conductivity of skeletal muscle. Current density distributions were determined and compared for four paddle pairs and two paddle sizes. The authors' results show that the myocardial current density distributions resulting from a defibrillation shock were fairly uniform for the paddle pairs and sizes examined in this study. Specific details of the spatial distribution of the current density magnitudes in the heart were found to depend on paddle placement and size. When the minimum current necessary to defibrillate was delivered, the maximum myocardial current density produced with any of the paddle sizes and positions examined was less than four times the minimum current density necessary to render a myocyte in a fibrillating heart inexcitable, and less than 40% of the damage threshold. These results suggest that common clinically used defibrillation paddle positions have a safety margin as large as 2.5 for current and ∼6 for energy.