Question: When one calls an ambulance to take a child or a woman in labor to the hospital on Shabbat, who may accompany them to the hospital?
Answer: The Gemara (Shabbat 128b) states: “If a woman in labor requires a candle, her friend may light a candle for her.” This means that if a woman in labor requests that a candle be lit on her behalf, a candle should be lit for her on Shabbat, for a woman in labor is considered to be going through a life-threatening ordeal and Shabbat is to be desecrated on her behalf. The Gemara then asks that this is obvious! Certainly, Shabbat must be desecrated for a woman in labor! The Gemara replies that it is referring to a blind woman who is giving birth and although she has no direct benefit from the lighting of the candle, if she requests that a candle be lit so that if something happens, her friend will be able to help her, a candle should be lit in order to “put her mind at ease” so that she may be calm at a time when she is in danger.
Hagaon Chazon Ish (in his letters, Volume 1, Chapter 141) writes that based on the above, the individual accompanying a woman in labor should be encouraged to ride along with her to the hospital on Shabbat, for the mind of the woman is certainly not at ease and her being alone will almost certainly lead to her being anxious which may in turn cause to be in a dangerous predicament. Thus, one should join her for the ride to the hospital and not send her alone.
This is certainly true when a child must be taken to the hospital on Shabbat due to a life-threatening situation that there is an obligation for one of his relatives, such as the father, mother, and the like, to accompany him for the ride, for the child can be in an even more dangerous situation when he sees he is alone.
This idea is further illustrated in the Gemara (Yoma 84a) where the Gemara states that if one sees a door locked in front of a child on Shabbat, one should break down the door and extricate the child “and the quicker one is to do this, the more praiseworthy one is.” This means that even if there is a Torah prohibition to break down the door on Shabbat, nevertheless, if a child is locked in a room alone, this will cause the child tremendous fear and therefore, the door should be broken down in order to extricate him so that physical or psychological danger does not befall him as a result of his predicament.
Nevertheless, we must point out that one should not over-exaggerate regarding this matter. This means that our Sages only permitted only those who serve to put the woman in labor’s mind at ease to accompany her, such as her husband, mother, sister, and the like. However, the custom that several family members travel with a woman in labor or with a child to the hospital on Shabbat is certainly incorrect and those people are desecrating Shabbat inadvertently (and an inadvertent sin as a result of interpreting the Torah incorrectly is considered advertent, see Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4).
On the other hand, there are special cases where it will be permissible for two people to accompany a woman in labor, especially if she asks for this specifically. For instance, if the mother of the woman in labor very much wants to accompany her daughter and the woman in labor requests from her husband that he come along as well because she feels her mother’s company alone is insufficient for her, there is room to allow the husband to accompany his wife to the hospital along with his mother-in-law.
Clearly, those accompanying the woman in labor or child to the hospital on Shabbat may not return home by car on Shabbat, for what we have discussed above is only permissible on the way to the hospital. Once they have arrived at the hospital, they must wait there until Shabbat has concluded and only then may they return home.
Summary: When a woman in labor or child must travel to the hospital on Shabbat due to a life-threatening circumstance (labor qualifies as a life-threatening circumstance), a family member may accompany them to the hospital in order to put their mind at ease. Nevertheless, there is only room for leniency for one person to accompany the patient unless there is an essential necessity for two family members to accompany the patient, as we have explained above.