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What Are Stem Cells?

Definitions at the Intersection of Science and Politics

John Alexander Lynch

Publication Year: 2011

In recent years political, religious, and scientific communities have engaged in an ethical debate regarding the development of and research on embryonic stem cells. Does the manipulation of embryonic stem cells destroy human life? Or do limitations imposed on stem cell research harm patients who might otherwise benefit?
John Lynch’s What Are Stem Cells? identifies the moral stalemate between the rights of the embryo and the rights of the patient and uses it as the framework for a larger discussion about the role of definitions as a key rhetorical strategy in the debate. In the case of stem cells, the controversy arises from the manner in which stem cells are defined--in particular, whether they are defined with an appeal to their original source or to their future application. Definitions such as these, Lynch argues, are far more than convenient expository references; they determine the realities of any given social discourse.
Lynch addresses definitions conceptually--their stability in the face of continual technological innovation, their versatility at the crossroads of scientific and public forums, and their translations and retranslations through politics. Most importantly, his work recognizes definitions as central to issues, not only within the topic of stem cell research, but also in all argumentation.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Series: Rhetoric, Culture, and Social Critique


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

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p. vii

This project is the result of serendipity as much as it is the result of any intention on my part. It began with an interest in science and an inability to do well in math—despite the best efforts of my accountant father and math teacher mother—which led through a circuitous path to graduate studies in the rhetoric...

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1. Science-Based Controversies and Idioms of Public Argument

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pp. 1-15

In August 2000, PBS’s NewsHour aired a debate on embryonic stem (ES) cells. The representatives of the two sides—Richard Doerflinger, from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Daniel Perry, chairman of the Patients’ Coalition for Urgent...

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2. Timely and Powerful: Defining Stem Cells through Appeals to Application

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pp. 16-43

The applications of scientific research—how the results of research can be used to further a scientific or societal purpose—are possibilities, nothing more than a hypothetical conjecture, but “the determination and operationalization of consequences, hypothetical conjectures and the like are therefore levers with which...

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3. Abortion and the Embryo: Right-to-Life Arguments as a Source for Rhetorical Invention

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pp. 44-72

Opponents of ES cell research have a difficult time challenging the language of future medical applications and its innate appeal to hope. Attacking the hope of curing Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease is quixotic at best. Instead, opponents deploy other lines of argument to dissuade people from supporting ES...

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4. Blastocysts, Spare Embryos, and Embryo Adoption: Redefining the Beginnings of Human Life

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pp. 73-89

Opponents turn to the public fetus, a key rhetorical figure from the abortion debate, to help make their case against ES cell research. Because some scientific and cultural practices have destabilized the public fetus, the public fetus and the rights of actual humans must be explicitly extended to the 14- day- old...

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5. Power, Potency, and Plasticity: Hierarchies of Stem Cells and Their Inherent Ambiguities

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pp. 90-117

One issue common to both the scientific and political debate about stem cell research is the issue of stem cell “potency”—the capacity of various stem cells to differentiate into the 210 tissues that constitute the human body. over the course of the debate, rhetors increasingly focus on stem cell potency...

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6. Stalemate and the Idioms of Science-Based Controversy: George W. Bush’s Manichean Idiom and Barack Obama’s Return to a Scientistic Idiom

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pp. 118-145

On August 9, 2001, President George W. Bush delivered his first televised policy address to the nation. He announced his policy for ES cell research, what the administration called a compromise policy that allowed funding for research only on ES cells that had been derived prior to his speech...

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7. Scientistic and Manichean Idioms of Public Argument

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pp. 146-154

Rhetorical scholars have identified a variety of idioms, modes, styles, and fashions in public argument. This multiplicity finds its genesis in the variety of issues publics must address and in the interactions of the individuals, social movements, and political concerns that constitute those publics...


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pp. 155-159

Works Cited

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pp. 161-179


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pp. 181-184

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780817385767
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317485

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1
Series Title: Rhetoric, Culture, and Social Critique
Series Editor Byline: John Louis Lucaites See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 772845433
MUSE Marc Record: Download for What Are Stem Cells?

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Subject Headings

  • Reasoning.
  • Stem cells.
  • Stem cells -- Social aspects.
  • Stem cells -- Moral and ethical aspects.
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