Our previous studies have shown that haemopoietic stem cells undergo apoptotic death as a consequence of growth factor withdrawal. In this paper we review the new data that has accumulated since this observation and compare it with older data from the `pre-apoptotic' age. Models of erythropoiesis and granulopoiesis that incorporate apoptosis as a normal physiological process controlling homeostasis are examined. The converse to cell death is cell survival, and we describe experiments which suggest that haemopoietic growth factors can not only act as mitogenic or differentiation stimuli but also act as survival signals. We, and others, have proposed that these growth factor-induced survival signals act through the membrane bound polypeptide receptors and share common features of signal transduction with proliferative responses. Enforced expression of bcl-2 in haemopoietic stem cells is able to overcome apoptosis following the withdrawal of growth factor, and the cells commit into different lineage differentiation programmes. Such cells spontaneously differentiate without cell division, suggesting a stochastic model of haemopoiesis in which the major role of haemopoietic growth factors is to suppress apoptosis and act as mitogens. We review the evidence that the underlying causes of some haematological diseases may be associated with change in the balance between cell survival and death.