Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

PWR 1ST: The Rhetoric of Biomedical Ethics

Main content start

Video with Dr. Starkman describing the course theme of PWR 1ST.

Catalog Number: PWR 1ST

Instructor: Ruth Starkman

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: None


Course Feature: WR-1 requirement

The Rhetoric of Biomedical Ethics invites students to study how medicine is rhetorically constructed and deployed in different social, political, and medical contexts. Students examine language and arguments as they shape public understandings medicine in relation to wellness, illness, and disability. After studying the rhetoric of medicine, students pursue their own research projects on medicine, technology, and accessibility. The course requires no background in science or medicine. In fact, students will consider how non-experts interact with medicine and its technical vocabularies, although the primary objective of the course is to understand the rhetorical and cultural dimensions of health and medicine.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) You’ll use key concepts in rhetorical theory to analyze truth and untruth in a single text, such as an article, essay, web page, or lab report; an image or advertisement; an event or situation.

Texts in Conversation Essay

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) You’ll choose a biomedical “rhetorical situation,” where writers and audiences interact, where arguments are made, where claims, reasoning, and evidence are offered, where persuasion is a goal. You’ll look at several texts in that specific situation, analyzing how argument works in relation to context, purpose, and media. Contextual analysis will explain why some arguments prevailed and others did not. Some previous projects have addressed such topics as “Research Conditions that Allow Exception From Informed Consent,” “Placebos,” and “Autism and the Vaccine Scare.”

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) In your TiC you gathered scholarly articles on a biomedical debate and demonstrated how each of these contributed to a larger conversation. You’ll use this “literature review” as the basis for developing a full-length argument which will unfold with a formal introduction and thesis in the IMRAD scientific argumentation format: Introduction, Methods (this is where your TiC fits in) Research, Analysis and Discussion (your conclusion). Your RBA will close with a fair assessment of various positions in a biomedical debate and your own contributions to the scholarly conversation you have elaborated.