Sabbathkeeping in our medical institutions

Sabbathkeeping in our medical institutions *

From the day that first medical unit opened in Battle Creek to the present time, each Sabbath, as it has come from week to week, has been a test both to the indi­vidual employee and also to the manage­ment of every Seventh-day Adventist medi­cal institution.

Chaplain, Walker Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium, Florida

IT HAPPENED on a Christ­mas evening ninety-six years ago. December 25, 1865, was the exact day. Our being here as a group of medical institu­tion administrators and others connected with the medical work can be traced directly back to what took place that evening.

Elder and Mrs. James White and J. N. Loughborough had just spent about three months at the health institution of Dr. James C. Jackson at Dansville, New York. Because of the general environment in the institution and Dr. Jackson's insistence on entire rest (with which Mrs. White disa­greed), she decided it would be best to re­move Elder White from Dansville. The doc­tor had serious misgivings but finally ad­vised that if they were determined to go, it should not be too far away until it could be decided what Elder White's physical reaction would be.

Rochester was forty-five miles away, and the brethren were to have a monthly meet­ing there, so this was selected as a stopping place. They were there three weeks, andduring that period special prayer was of­fered for ten days for Elder White's recov­ery. It was at one of these seasons of prayer on that Christmas evening that the Lord sent a very important message to His people. It is singular, it seems to me, that the instruction given to Sister White in that vision, one main reason for establishing a medical institution owned and operated by Seventh-day Adventists, was that in such an institution God's people would not be under pressure to violate their conscience in respect to proper Sabbath observance.

From the day that first medical unit opened in Battle Creek to the present time, each Sabbath, as it has come from week to week, has been a test both to the indi­vidual employee and also to the manage­ment of every Seventh-day Adventist medi­cal institution.

Let us state in as simple terms as possible what the problem is we are each concerned with. (1) The Lord directed in the pro­gram of establishing these medical institu­tions, so we are not out of harmony with His will as far as the type of work we are doing is concerned. (2) Of necessity and by the Lord's direction as well, they are to be operated on a twenty-four-hour, seven-day week schedule. This is not true of most other types of our institutions. Some can be closed down quite completely during the Sabbath, such as the publishing plants. Back in the days when we had a large num­ber of cafeterias and health restaurants, they were instructed to close on the Sab­bath. Not so a medical unit, for its work must never cease. ($) If the work musf con­tinue during the hours of the Sabbath, should there be changes made in the work program on the Sabbath? If so, what and how?

Let us direct our attention now to this question: Why are we concerned at all about this matter? There are two vital rea­sons why we must be deeply concerned. Perhaps you may think of others. (I) The spiritual welfare of the individual. God first of all deals with individuals, and that is where we must tackle the problem—at the level of the individual worker. (2) The success of the institution. Perhaps the in­dividual should look out for his own wel­fare, but the success of the institution is placed, to a large degree, by the Lord and by the board of directors, upon the admin­istrator. Let us deal with these two phases separately. Here in plain language is the crux of it all as far as the individual em­ployee is concerned. "A spirit of irrever­ence and carelessness in the observance of the Sabbath is liable to come into our sani­tariums."—Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 106. The key word here is "liable." It means "ex­posed to the danger or risk of something undesired." This word is well chosen to describe the danger. It doesn't say it is "prone" to happen, for it isn't necessarily the natural outworking of a given situa­tion.

Now, what makes it "liable" that a spirit of irreverence and carelessness will come in? "Those who, from whatever cause [note how broad that is], are obliged to work on the Sabbath, are always in peril; they feel the loss, and from doing works of necessity, they fall into the habit of doing things on the Sabbath that are not neces­sary. The sense of its sacredness is lost, and the holy commandment is of no effect. A special effort should be made to bring about a reform in regard to Sabbath ob­servance."—Medical Ministry, p. 215. "The sanitarium is a place which affords ample opportunity to backslide from God."— Ibid., p. 216. We must face squarely the question: Do we want our work carried on by a group of Sabbathbreaking, back­slidden Adventists? If not, when we return to our posts of duty we ought to look care­fully into what is going on in the various departments on the Sabbath and immedi­ately bring about any necessary changes.

The institution has something at stake as well as the individual. We are in our re­spective communities as representatives of God and His final message to mankind. The test of that final message is the Sab­bath. The test of the institution is the up­holding of every principle given to this people, the Sabbath in particular. God cannot, and will not, endorse any enter­prise that deliberately disregards His ex­press commands. There may be patients in a building paying their bills so the financial status of the institution is in order, but that doesn't ensure Heaven's approval or nec­essarily indicate a mark of success.

This brings us squarely up against a very important question. What duties are right and what are wrong in the running of a Seventh-day Adventist medical institution during the holy hours of the Sabbath day? When that question has been successfully answered, we have a basic starting point from which to proceed. First let me say that this question cannot be answered by devis­ing a set of rules. There are enough rules being used now in all medical institutions plus any number that might still be devised to cope with the Sabbath work problem on the basis of rules. The Jews tried to solve the Sabbathkeeping problem with rules and regulations. Anyone who approaches it from that standpoint alone is doomed to failure. Certainly we must have regulations in order to carry on any kind of enterprise. What I am saying is that we cannot depend upon rules only to make certain that the Sabbath is respected as it should be. But there is an answer. It can be handled on the basis of principle. I have a conviction that God overlooks mistakes of judgment that are made when the motive for doing the act is founded upon this principle. Here it is: "The object of God's work in this world is the redemption of man; therefore that which is necessary to be done on the Sabbath in the accomplishment of this work is in accord with the Sabbath law."—The Desire of Ages, p. 285. Every act done by any worker or group of workers in our in­stitutions on the Sabbath can be brought to the test of this principle.

We have stated the principle that is to guide us, and it covers every situation that may arise. Now this question must receive our attention: Suppose the aid or nurse on the floor or anyone else in the institution does not know how to apply the principle to his Sabbath duties? This we must sav, God has never accepted a continuing pro­gram based upon ignorance as a legitimate excuse for disobedience. Who is responsi­ble? First of all, his immediate superior and the one who assigned his work. Then the responsibility comes back step by step (whatever these steps may be) to the ad­ministrator, and finally to the governing board. "Upon the men of responsibility in the medical missionary work rests the duty of giving instruction to physicians, nurses, and helpers in regard to the sanctity of God's holy day."—Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 106. Brethren, let us recognize this responsi­bility and carry out this duty assigned to us, which is to see that all our workers are properly instructed in regard to their work while on Sabbath duty. Would it not be in order for each of us when we return home to plan right away for an Operation Nehe-miah—to make a personal survey of every department to see in detail what is going on during the Sabbath. Check with the head of each department. Ask comprehen­sive, pointed questions. Then, without a violent eruption, set in motion all that is necessary to bring about any changes need­ful. You may have to close the gates and see that the violators do not return. It can be done and should be done. This should in­clude the strangers within our gates, for they, too, come under the Sabbath com­mand.

Every part of the Sabbath program should be carefully scrutinized to see if any part can be eliminated without detriment to the proper care of the patient. We have been instructed that elective surgery and ordinary treatments should not be per­formed on the Sabbath.

Inasmuch as most of our institutions are open staff, the problem may be difficult to manage, but because it is difficult doesn't excuse us from managing it. Here is a statement to that point. "We are to heed a 'Thus saith the Lord,' even though by our obedience we cause great inconvenience to those who have no respect for the Sab­bath. On one hand we can have man's sup­posed necessities, on the other, God's com­mands."—Counsels on Health, p. 490.

We might profitably spend a few min­utes thinking about the various depart­ments of an institution and see what may be done to give the workers the benefit of worship privileges on the Sabbath or the day free as the case may be.

1. Food Service Department. "In our sanitariums, the family of patients, with the physicians, nurses, and helpers, must be fed upon the Sabbath, as any other family, with as little labor as possible."—Ibid.

a. At the present time, who is it that is determining in the food service depart­ment what constitutes "as little labor as possible"? In counsel there is safety. In all fairness to the workers and the institution, let us not allow one person to carry this re­sponsibility.

b. In arranging the menu, is the dietitian conscious of the Sabbath, to see that this menu is the simplest of all the week to pre­pare?

c. The category of persons to be allowed cafeteria privileges would also have to be considered.

2. Maintenance. Probably in most insti­tutions this department does not present too much difficulty.

3. Housekeeping. Here some study would surely be in order. Is it necessary to go through some motions of cleaning or straightening in every room lest the pa­tients feel neglected? How many clean rooms is it necessary to keep in readiness? If the patients check out on Sabbath, why could the room service not wait until Sun­day? Could the nursing staff take the re­sponsibility of doing some of the necessary duties ordinarily falling to the housekeep­ing department?

4. Nursing Service. In most instances the nursing department presents the greatest challenge. It is possible to work out a sched­ule whereby those in the nursing service can attend Sabbath school and church two Sabbaths out of three if all are willing to cooperate. If there has been a tendency to let the Sabbath program go along about as usual, it will take time to educate doctors, patients, and the nursing staff to accept a program in harmony with the Lord's in­struction. But this should challenge us to overcome every obstacle, whatever it may be.

In conclusion, I think the importance of what we have discussed can best be im­pressed upon our minds and hearts by re­minding ourselves again that "those who from whatever cause, are obliged to work on the Sabbath, are always in peril."


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Chaplain, Walker Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium, Florida

January 1962

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