Did Matt Lauer Err by Calling a Negative Test for Down Syndrome “Good News” on the Today Show?

A new non-invasive genetic test (using blood draw), MaterniT21 Plus, claims it can detect Down Syndrome at 10 weeks of pregnancy. Matt Lauer, inadvertantly no doubt, stepped into the controversy of genetic testing and abortion during a Today Show segment with two parents who had undergone the testing and had a live reveal of the sex and also the Down Syndrome status of their baby. Lauer referred to the negative Down Syndrome result as “good news” (his exact phrase “Let’s get right to the good news,”) with the mother-to-be saying “[w]e are safe. The baby does not have Down syndrome,” giving rise to controversy among the disability rights community. To be fair, later in the segment there is a discussion of the fact that the couple had stated that should they find out the child had Down Syndrome they would not abort but instead see “specialists” and “get more information.”

A couple of reactions: While I do not think it per se unethical and certainly not illegal (wait did Matt Lauer just make a HIPAA joke on TODAY, that’s a first?!!!) there is certainly something unsavory about having a “Down Syndrome reveal” on live television. I wonder if TODAY would have broadcast the segment if the test was positive and the emotional reaction of the parents had been less warm? Second, I think the dust-up over the “good news” language points to a deeper set of issues. On the one hand, disability rights advocates reasonably chafe on America’s heavily watched morning program hammering home the message that it is “bad news” to have a child with Down Syndrome. On the other hand, this may be an accurate reflection of where we, as a country, currently are on the issue, rightly or wrongly.

Continue reading