We have previously shown that the ability to respond to apoptotic triggers is regulated during Drosophila development, effectively dividing the fly life cycle into stages that are either sensitive or resistant to apoptosis. Here, we show that the developmentally programmed resistance to apoptosis involves transcriptional repression of critical proapoptotic genes by histone deacetylases (HDACs). Administration of HDAC inhibitors (HDACi), like trichostatin A or suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid, increases expression of proapoptotic genes and is sufficient to sensitize otherwise resistant stages. Conversely, reducing levels of proapoptotic genes confers resistance to otherwise sensitive stages. Given that resistance to apoptosis is a hallmark of cancer cells, and that HDACi have been recently added to the repertoire of FDA-approved agents for cancer therapy, our results provide new insights for how HDACi help kill malignant cells and also raise concerns for their potential unintended effects on healthy cells.