Research on programmed cell death in plants is providing insight into the primordial mechanism of programmed cell death in all eukaryotes. Much of the attention in studies on animal programmed cell death has focused on determining the importance of signal proteases termed caspases. However, it has recently been shown that cell death can still occur even when the caspase cascade is blocked, revealing that there is an underlying oncotic default pathway. Many programmed plant cell deaths also appear to be oncotic. Shared features of plant and animal programmed cell death can be used to deduce the primordial components of eukaryotic programmed cell death. From this perspective, we must ask whether the mitochondrion is a common factor that can serve in plant and animal cell death as a stress sensor and as a dispatcher of programmed cell death.