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Down syndrome Community appalled by Shortland Street story

Media release

Down syndrome Community appalled by Shortland Street story line

The New Zealand Down Syndrome Association is appalled by the insensitive and ignorant story lines used in recent episodes of Shortland Street.

Kim Porthouse, NZDSA Spokesperson on Pre-Natal Screening, says the Down syndrome community has been shocked to see how TV2’s soap opera has portrayed people with Down syndrome in its most recent episodes after one of its female characters, Zoe, discovered that she is possibly pregnant with a child with Down syndrome.

The father of the child, Chris Warner, who plays a doctor in the series, instantly implies that she should have an abortion, and suggests the child “will suffer”, have severe medical issues and that “it will crush” the mother.

“These inflammatory statements are incredibly ill-informed and coming from a doctor it just reinforces a lot of the prejudice that having a child with Down syndrome is a burden,” says Mrs Porthouse.

“But what is worse is that a lot of our young people with Down syndrome absolutely love Shortland Street and suddenly one of their heroes tells them their families would have been better off without them,” says the NZDSA representative who says that the organisation has fielded numerous calls and comments from upset families and people with Down syndrome.

Mrs Porthouse says that the issue of screening for Down syndrome is an extremely sensitive social and cultural issue.

“Screening is not routine, but a choice. Unfortunately, many pregnant women are not made aware or given that choice and think the test is routine. When the test is positive, they will usually get a very negative clinical advice about all the medical complications that may occur and often pushed towards termination.”

Mrs Porthouse says that often women are not offered balanced information or the opportunity to talk to parents with a child with Down syndrome and find out what wonderful and full lives their children are leading.

“These parents are put under a lot of pressure to make only one choice, to abort, and the statements by Dr Warner on Shortland Street just emphasises that.”

The NSDSA has written to TVNZ and Shortland Street producers South Pacific Pictures to complain about the episodes and demand the writers to be more considered and provide more balanced and less sensational storylines on this subject.

In their reply, TVNZ stated that it had consulted with the medical advisors but refused the request to show contact details of the NZDSA at the end of the programme for anyone needing support or more information after watching the relevant episodes.

“The NZDSA is not challenging the free choice for every woman to make their own choices, but we just want to make sure pregnant women make genuinely informed choices.”

Mrs Porthouse says the NZDSA hopes that New Zealand will not follow the path of other countries where the state and the medical profession has been actively encouraging the elimination of Down syndrome in their society and countries like Iceland now reaching 100% termination rates of pregnancies with Down syndrome.

For more information please contact the NZDSA on 0800 693 724, (option 2)

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