A patient with cerebral infarction was certified clinically brainstem dead. However, 4 h after the diagnosis of death, while the patient was being ventilated using the biphasic positive airway pressure mode, the 'assist' indicator light on the Drager Evita 2 ventilator illuminated intermittently. There was no evidence of spontaneous breathing. 'Triggering' was probably caused by a decrease in airway pressure in time with cardiac contraction. The trigger flow rate is crucial as factors other than the patient's inspiratory effort can initiate flow from the ventilator with very sensitive settings.