In February 1995, a 56-year-old female was taken to the operating room for routine placement of a Hickman catheter. Her internist planned palliative chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer. Using the Seldinger technique, the right subclavian vein was entered and a Hickman catheter was placed. Shortly after extubation and arrival in the postoperative recovery unit, the patient had respiratory and cardiac arrest. Resuscitative efforts, including chest tube placement and pericardiocentesis, were unsuccessful. Autopsy findings included perforation of the superior vena cava, with extension of the catheter in the pericardial sac and associated effusion. Despite the low reported incidence of perforation during placement of central venous catheters, we recommend confirmation of placement by fluoroscopy and instillation of radiopaque dye because of the high mortality associated with this complication.