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The Politics of Cloning: Mapping the rhetorical convergence of embryos and stem cells in parliamentary debates

In April 2001, the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFE Act) was amended to allow stem cell research to use human embryos. By identifying what Mulkay calls "discursive regularities" [Mulkay, M. (1993) Rhetorics of hope and fear in the great embryo debate, Social Studies of Science, 23, p. 723], this paper examines the rhetorical strategies of and manoeuvrings over the meanings of stem cells, cloning and embryos within the parliamentary context. I focus upon the "return to the embryo question" and the significance of this for the stem cell debates in terms of form and content. This feeds into an analysis of the ways in which two specific groups are discursively invoked and constructed--those with diseases and disabilities who have been identified as likely to benefit from stem cell therapies, and couples undergoing fertility treatment who are needed to donate spare embryos. In doing so, I draw upon similar analyses of the earlier embryo debates – those of Mulkay, Franklin, Kirejczyk and Spallone – leading up to the establishment of the 1990 HFE Act. In conjunction with these analyses, I am able to identify parallels between the rhetorical devices mobilized and the legislative outcomes.