Autophagy (specifically macroautophagy) is an evolutionarily conserved catabolic process where the cytoplasmic contents of a cell are sequestered within double membrane vacuoles, called autophagosomes, and subsequently delivered to the lysosome for degradation. Autophagy can function as a survival mechanism in starving cells. At the same time, extensive autophagy is commonly observed in dying cells, leading to its classification as an alternative form of programmed cell death. The functional contribution of autophagy to cell death has been a subject of great controversy. However, several recent loss-of-function studies of autophagy (atg) genes have begun to address the roles of autophagy in both cell death and survival. Here, we review the emerging evidence in favor of and against autophagic cell death, discuss the possible roles that autophagic degradation might play in dying cells, and identify salient issues for future investigation.