Shock is accompanied by a severe inflammatory cascade in the microcirculation, the origin of which has been hypothesized in the past to be associated with specific mediators such as endotoxin, oxygen free radicals, nitric oxide, cytokines, and lipid products. But no intervention with clinical effectiveness has been derived from these ideas to date. The authors propose here a new hypothesis suggesting that degradative enzymes, synthesized in the pancreas as part of normal digestion, may play a central role in shock and multiorgan failure. These powerful enzymes have the ability to digest almost every biological material. Self-digestion (i.e. autodegradation) is prevented by compartmentalizing the fully activated degradative enzymes in the intestinal lumen by the mucosal barrier. In shock, maintenance of the mucosal barrier is impaired and it becomes permeable to pancreatic enzymes. Digestive enzymes thereby gain access to the wall of the intestine and initiate self-digestion of submucosal extracellular matrix proteins and interstitial cells. The process leads to generation and release of a host of strong inflammatory mediators. The authors hypothesize that inhibition of pancreatic enzymes in the lumen of tile intestine can serve to attenuate formation of these inflammatory mediators in ischemic tissues following hemorrhagic shock, and consequently prevent cell and tissue injury as well as multiorgan failure.