Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero has weighed into the conversation around Down syndrome and pregnancy in Shortland Street, saying there needs to be more balanced information for viewers.

The recent storyline on the popular New Zealand soap opera featuring the potential abortion of baby with Down syndrome had been called “insensitive and ignorant” by the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association.

In episodes of the show this week the character of Zoe has been struggling with the news that she‘s possibly pregnant with a child with Down syndrome.

Character Doctor Chris Warner, the father of the child, suggested Zoe have an abortion as the child will suffer and have severe medical issues.

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“Raising a disabled child is hard work, this baby could be born with serious medical issues, heart, hearing, eyesight, digestive issues, higher risk of infection, I‘m not trying to scare you Zoe but this is a big decision and you need all the facts,” the character of Warner told her during Monday night‘s episode.

Tesoriero said it was concerning the initial suggestion raised by a person playing a medical professional on the show raised the possibility an unborn child with Down syndrome being aborted.

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero has weighed into the conversation around the topic of Down Syndrome and pregnancy after it featured on Shortland Street. Photo / Mark Tantrum facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

“It is important that people are able to make informed choices about prenatal screenings and the test results. This requires independent, balanced information and opinions based on lived experience.”

Families experienced a range of emotions when they were expecting, there were so many things they need to prepare for and learn, Tesoriero said.

“It is critical that they have access to the right information and support to be able to make these decisions.”

It would have been useful to discuss the storyline with the disability community, not just health professionals, in order for a more balanced picture of Down syndrome to be presented.

“We must change attitudes in New Zealand about disability. This is an important conversation to have and though this storyline may develop into a more positive portrayal, this initial reaction from some medical professionals is one that I have heard too many times before.

“Talking to people with Down syndrome and families raising disabled children helps break down these attitudes. This should be included in the development of this storyline. To truly understand disability and the barriers disabled people face, you need to talk with those for whom disability is their everyday reality.”

In a joint statement, TVNZ and South Pacific Pictures said they acknowledge the storyline addresses a sensitive topic but Shortland Street is known for tackling a range of challenging issues that New Zealanders face.

“The show‘s producers work closely with medical advisers to ensure health storylines are depicted with care in the context of a drama.

“We realise that not everyone will agree with every choice we make, but we always appreciate when people come to us to share their feedback. We consider the full range of the audience views when making future decisions.”

New Zealand Down Syndrome Association provides information and support to people with Down syndrome and new parents. If you would like to know more please them at nzdsai.co.nz or call 0800 693 724.