Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is an advanced form of life support technology whereby venous blood is oxygenated outside of the body and returned to the patient. ECMO was initially used as last-resort rescue therapy for patients with severe respiratory failure. Over the last four decades, it has developed into a safe, standard therapy for newborns with progressive cardiorespiratory failure, as a resuscitation therapy after cardiac arrest, and in combination with other treatments such as hypothermia and various blood filtration therapies. ECMO has also become routine for children and adults with all forms of cardiogenic shock and is also routine in early graft failure after transplantation. The one area of ongoing debate is the role of ECMO in adults with hypoxemic respiratory failure. As ECMO equipment becomes safer, earlier use improves patient outcomes. Several modifications of the two basic venovenous and venoarterial ECMO systems are now occurring, as are many minor variations in cannulation strategies and systems of care for patients receiving ECMO. The indications and situations in which ECMO have been tried continue to change, and ECMO for sub-acute and chronic illnesses is now commonplace, as is the use of ECMO in patients with clinical problems previously regarded as contraindications, such as sepsis, malignancy, and immunosuppression.