Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero says the current storyline on New Zealand drama Shortland Street emphasises the need for balanced information about Down syndrome.
“It is concerning that the initial suggestion raised by a person playing a medical professional on the show at the possibility of having a child with Down syndrome is abortion.
“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 experience a range of emotions when they are expecting, there are so many things they need to prepare for and learn, Ms Tesoriero says.
“It is critical that they have access to the right information and support to be able to make these decisions.”
For World Down syndrome Day, the New Zealand Down syndrome Association released a video called “Dear Health Professionals”. The video features 14 young people with Down syndrome talking directly to medical professionals.
Their message is simple: “We’re all different and unique, we all have value, and everyone has the right to live a happy and healthy life.”
Ms Tesoriero says that 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.”
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 contact them at [email protected] or call 0800 693 724.