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Peninei Halakha > Shabbat > 27 – Sick People and Saving Lives > 08. Accompanying a Sick Person or Woman in Labor to the Hospital

08. Accompanying a Sick Person or Woman in Labor to the Hospital

A patient who is rushed to the hospital generally needs a chaperone, to offer support and to ensure that he is given proper care by the medical staff. Unfortunately, due to heavy volume of patients at a hospital, patients who are alone are sometimes overlooked. Therefore, if a family finds out that a relative has been hospitalized with a serious injury or illness and is alone in the hospital, one of the family members must travel there, even on Shabbat.

Similarly, a woman in labor must be accompanied to the hospital. Even if she does not request, someone – her husband, mother, or doula – should travel with her. If the woman in labor or the patient arrives at the hospital without a chaperone, it is permitted to call someone to travel to the hospital. Even though caring for a woman in labor is straightforward and familiar, there is still a concern that she will panic and endanger herself. Therefore, one may desecrate Shabbat on her behalf and do whatever he may do for a dangerously sick person (SA 330:1; MB ad loc. 3; BHL s.v. “u-madlikin”).

Recently, some women request the presence of both their husbands and their mothers at the hospital. Some also ask their doulas to attend. Since this is not a lifesaving medical necessity, only one chaperone may travel along – her husband, her mother, or her doula. Only in an unusual circumstance, such as when a woman becomes hysterical and insists that both her husband and her mother must accompany her, may they both do so. Similarly, if she experiences anxiety and demands that they call her doula, the doula may be called. Nevertheless, one may not plan for more than one person to accompany her on Shabbat.

Others disagree and maintain that one should do whatever the woman in labor wants, even if she is not hysterical. If she wants her husband, mother, and doula to come with her, they all travel along, to put her mind at ease. According to this approach, one may even make a detour in order to pick them up or call them to request that they make their own way to the hospital. However, this would seem to be excessive, and it does not legitimize driving on Shabbat. The widespread custom is that one person accompanies a woman in labor. However, if the drive is long and the husband is driving, the mother or doula may come along as well, since sometimes another person is needed to help the woman during the drive.

If the woman in labor has small children at home, one must prearrange for neighbors to care for the children in the event that the parents must travel on Shabbat. However, if they live in a remote location, or if the neighbors are bad or untrustworthy people, with whom it dangerous to leave children, and leaving the children home alone would also be dangerous, the children may travel with the parents to the hospital. One may also make a slight detour in order to drop them off with a family that can take care of them.[8]

[8]. One may violate Torah prohibitions in order to accompany a sick person or a woman in labor, just as one may light a fire for a woman in labor even when it is not truly necessary (SA 330:1; MB ad loc. 3; BHL s.v. “u-madlikin”). This is even more relevant today, when the generally accepted wisdom is that the patient needs someone to accompany him in the hospital in order to ensure that he receives proper care (Nishmat Avraham, OĤ 278:4 with n. 29, and 330:6 citing R. Yehoshua Neuwirth; R. Yoel Katan in Assia 9). If a non-Jew is available to drive the children to family or friends, one may ask him to do so, even if the neighbors can watch the children in a pinch. If it is not necessary to take a detour or make an extra trip to pick up the mother or the doula, even if the woman in labor is not completely hysterical, if she demands that they travel with her even on Shabbat, they may be picked up in a pinch. However, one may not plan for them to travel with her, because in fact there is no need for more than one person to escort her.

A woman in labor who wants to rely on the lenient opinion and have two people accompany her must be honest with herself regarding how much she truly needs the extra person. She should imagine that, for example, she went into labor on a Shabbat that her mother or doula happened to be hosting large numbers of guests for a son’s aufruf, when traveling to the hospital would mean deserting her guests until after Shabbat and missing her son being called up to the Torah. If, under such circumstances, the woman in labor would still demand that her mother or doula accompany her in addition to her husband, and they would still agree to go, this indicates that they really do consider their role in her childbirth potentially lifesaving, and they may accompany her according to the lenient opinion. However, if under such circumstances the woman in labor would forego their presence, it indicates that she does not consider their role to be life-saving. Accordingly, even on a regular Shabbat, she should suffice with one chaperone. The ambulance driver does not count as a chaperone, as he will not stay in the hospital with the patient or woman in labor (see Igrot Moshe, OĤ 1:132; Or Le-Tziyon 2:36:23; BHL 330:1, s.v. “u-madlikin”; Yalkut Yosef 330:9). It is proper not to rely on the lenient opinion at all, because adding another chaperone has no lifesaving value; the merit of keeping Shabbat is more effective.

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