Cerebral ischemia is one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality in the Western world. Despite extensive research, adequate therapies are still elusive. Neuronal degeneration and death are hallmarks of stroke / ischemia. Understanding how the death machinery executes neuronal death in ischemia will provide therapeutic targets. Key to the death machinery are caspases: the family of cell death proteases. While much data has been published regarding caspase involvement in models of ischemia, the pathways have not been thoroughly defined. The specification of the caspases critical for death has been hampered by the use of nonspecific reagents. Thus many conclusions about specificity are unwarranted. In this review we discuss how caspases can be measured and review the existing knowledge of the roles of specific caspases in ischemia. We also discuss approaches to determining the molecules that execute ischemic death.