Despite advances in mechanical ventilation, severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is associated with high morbidity and mortality rates ranging from 26% to 58%. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a modified cardiopulmonary bypass circuit that serves as an artificial membrane lung and blood pump to provide gas exchange and systemic perfusion for patients when their own heart and lungs are unable to function adequately. ECMO is a complex network that provides oxygenation and ventilation and allows the lungs to rest and recover from respiratory failure while minimizing iatrogenic ventilator-induced lung injury. In critical care settings, ECMO is proven to improve survival rates and outcomes in patients with severe ARDS. This review defines severe ARDS; describes the ECMO circuit; and discusses recent research, optimal use of the ECMO circuit, limitations of therapy including potential complications, economic impact, and logistical factors; and discusses future research considerations.