Down syndrome community 'appalled' by Shortland Street storyline

Morning Talk 01/08/2018
Chris Warner. Photo: TVNZ.

A recent Shortland Street storyline has been labelled “insensitive and ignorant” by members of New Zealand’s Down syndrome community.

But broadcaster TVNZ, which airs the programme, and production company South Pacific Pictures are defending it.

Characters Zoe Carlson and Chris Warner, a couple, discover their unborn baby is likely to have Down syndrome.

In the show, Warner says genetic disorder will mean the child suffers severe medical issues that "will crush" Carlson.

Kim Porthouse, a spokesperson for the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association (NZDSA), says the word ‘abortion’ was used straight away.

“They very quickly, when they introduced this topic, went to a doctor suggesting that abortion is a solution.

“Doctors have a position of power in our society. A doctor going straight to this suggestion gives credence to the idea that that is the solution to having a pregnancy with Down syndrome when actually it’s a far more wide ranging topic,” she told RadioLIVE’s Mark Sainsbury.

A joint statement from TVNZ and South Pacific Pictures says the show is "known for tackling a range of challenging issues that face New Zealanders today, and we know this is one of them.

"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."

The statement also says that the storyline will evolve further and should not be judged just from the initial statements by Warner.

But the NZDSA says many people with Down syndrome are Shortland Street fans and they've already been hurt.

"They are offended," says Mrs Porthouse.

"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."

The NZDSA says that TVNZ replied to its complaint about the storyline, saying it had "consulted with medical advisors".

However, the network refused to put contact details for the NZDSA at the end of episodes that featured the Down syndrome storyline.

In the TVNZ and South Pacific Pictures statement, the companies say "we don’t think a special viewer guidance message is called for right now".

Listen to the full interview with Kim Porthouse above.

Morning Talk with Mark Sainsbury, 9am - 12pm Weekdays and streaming live on 'rova' channel 9 - available on Android and iPhone.