Sixteen moribund newborn infants with respiratory failure were treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for 1 to 8 days. Cannulation via the right jugular vein and carotid artery was used to establish venoarterial-cardiopulmonary bypass. High flow (80 percent of cardiac output) allowed decreasing FIO2 and airway pressure. Diagnoses and results were as follows: respiratory distress syndrome, four patients (two improved, one survived); meconium aspiration syndrome, eight patients (four improved, three survived); persistent fetal circulation (some with diaphragmatic hernia), four patients (three improved, two survived). Intracranial bleeding occurred in 43 percent, accounting for most of the deaths. In a parallel series of 21 infants treated with conventional ventilator therapy, the mortality rate was 90 percent and intracranial bleeding occurred in 57 percent. ECMO provided life support and gains time in newborn respiratory failure. In high mortality risk infants, the rate of survival is higher and intracranial bleeding lower with ECMO than with optimal ventilator management.