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The Stem Cell Controversy

The Stem Cell Controversy

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Published by Kathy Kieva
The 2nd paper I wrote for a graduate-level course in Rhetorical Theory.
The 2nd paper I wrote for a graduate-level course in Rhetorical Theory.

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Published by: Kathy Kieva on Aug 31, 2009
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08/30/2010

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The Stem Cell Controversy: A Rhetorical Analysis
Kathy KievaENL 501 - Rhetorical TheoryResearch Paper IIJerrold Blitefield12/15/08
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 INTRODUCTIONIn my first research report, "Beyond Logos: An Overview of the Rhetoric of Science," Iexplored how scientific discourse is fundamentally rhetorical. Contrary to our typical image of ascientist as someone who is always logical, objective and unemotional, scientists make their arguments using ethos and pathos, as well as logos. They also make extensive use of analogies,metaphors and enthymemes, and their discourse can be rhetorically situated, therefore requiringan awareness of their audience and the constraints of the situation.This paper explores a specific scientific controversy - embryonic stem cell research -from a rhetorical perspective. This controversy isn't exclusively scientific, meaning it's notexclusively between scientists. Because of the subject, embryonic stem cells and their use inresearch, there are many more voices audible in this debate - philosophers and ethicists, journalists, patients with life-threatening diseases who are anxious for this research to moveforward and couples who can't imagine "discarding" the frozen embryos from their fertilitytreatments, regardless of the potential benefit to others. By including these other voices, we canget an idea of how this research is understood - and misunderstood - in the public arena andanalyze how scientists respond
rhetorically
in an effort to persuade public opinion to their cause.By first establishing the controversy as a rhetorical situation as defined by Bitzer, I willanalyze the discourse used on both sides of the controversy as they make their case to pursue or  prohibit embryonic stem cell research. Although I will use examples found in the popular media,my focus will be on the discourse used within the context of the President's Council onBioethics, established in November, 2001, to advise the President on the legal, ethical, moral and
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medical issues surrounding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The Councilconsisted of scientists, medical doctors, ethicists, philosophers, journalists, lawyers and public policy makers and was chaired by Leon R. Kass, M.D., Ph.D., Addie Clark Harding Professor of The College and the Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago. The participation of such a wide range of viewpoints from both sides of the controversy and the volume of thediscourse available for study - transcripts, meeting notes, reports, personal stories, backgroundarticles and research papers - provides a rich resource for this analysis and can be found atwww.bioethics.gov/topics/stemcells_index.html. Individual reports, articles, transcripts, etc, will be noted as necessary.SETTING THE STAGEBefore beginning our analysis, we need to understand what stem cells are, specifically
embryonic
stem cells and why their use in federally funded research is so controversial.All the specialized cells of the human body - brain cells, kidney cells, bone cells, musclecells, nerve cells, and so on - originate from undifferentiated embryonic stem cells. Thefollowing description is taken from "Stem Cells and Public Policy" and provides the clearestexplanation of what embryonic stem cells are:All human beings develop from the union of an egg and a sperm. The result is a fertilizedegg, or 
 zygote
, a single cell that divides into other cells, which together constitute theearly embryo…About five to seven days after conception, a zygote will have divided intoabout one hundred to one hundred and fifty cells. These take the form of a hollow ballcalled a
blastocyst 
, with a mass of undifferentiated cells inside it. These undifferentiatedcells are used to generate
embryonic stem cell lines
(7).The ability of stem cells to differentiate into multiple types of cells and because of their theoretical ability to self-replicate
ad infinitum
, thus maintaining a stem cell "line," there is
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