There is a persistent shortage of kidneys available for transplantation. In the early 1980s, therefore, we published the concept of non-heartbeating (NHB) donation; that is, procurement of kidneys from donors whose death has been accompanied by irreversible circulatory arrest. NHB donors are generally categorized using four definitions; category III (awaiting cardiac arrest) and category IV (cardiac arrest while braindead)--or 'controlled'--donors are the most suitable for initiating NHB donation programs. Delayed graft function is associated with use of kidneys from such donors, but has no effect on graft survival in the short or long term. Use of kidneys from category I (dead upon arrival at hospital) and category II (unsuccessfully resuscitated), or 'uncontrolled', donors is likewise associated with delayed graft function, but also with an increased risk of primary nonfunction. Viability testing of donated organs from these sources is a prerequisite for transplantation. Machine preservation parameters and enzyme release measurements help to distinguish viable from nonviable kidneys. The proportion of NHB donor kidneys in the total pool of postmortem kidneys differs considerably between countries. In The Netherlands, the proportion is nearly 50%. This figure is markedly higher than that in the US and Canada, where national programs have now been initiated to increase rates of NHB donation. In the future, warm preservation techniques might facilitate better viability testing, thereby increasing NHB donation from category I and II donors and further reducing the shortage of kidneys available for transplantation.