Resolved: A just society ought to presume consent for organ procurement from the deceased.

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Resolved: A just society ought to presume consent for organ procurement from the deceased.

This topic is interesting because it provides for a great deal of clash and really brings in to question our conception of justice and what it entails. It’s a great way to start off the new debate season. So, let’s get to it.


Organ procurement – This is the act of getting an organ from a body, simply put. In modern societies this is typically done in and by medical institutions.

Presume consent – Presuming consent means that society assumes a person is willing to donate his/her organs unless explicitly stated otherwise.

Deceased – I anticipate some flaky positions around this definition, so I put it in here just in case. Deceased means dead, completely. In does not mean in a debatable state of death or effectively dead, like PVS. The intent of the resolution is clearly to only focus on those who are unarguably dead.

Just society – This is up to you to define in your case, and your argument will largely center around this definition. What does it mean for a society to be just?

Ought – Ought means should. The resolution asks the question of what a just society should do. As indicated by the definition above, that is up to you to determine.

Case Positions


1. Utilitarianism – The only truly just society is a utilitarian one. When we look out for the greatest good for the greatest number of people, society is served better, and it ensures that the most people receive their due. To that end, a just society would assume consent for organ procurement to provide care for the greatest number of people.

2. Veil of Ignorance – The only way to arrive at a truly just system of social justice is to approach policy from behind a veil of ignorance. That is to say, everyone should imagine that they could wake up tomorrow and be anyone in society. This allows us to make completely objective decisions. From behind a veil of ignorance, it is clear that a person would always be in favor of assumed consent for organ procurement. Therefore, such consent must be assumed.

3. Assumed consent is not a violation of autonomy – Assumed consent is not the same as forced consent. A person is still free to say no if they should choose to do so. Therefore, their autonomy is not violated, and there is a net which effectively catches all those people who are too lazy to register as organ donors. Promoting life is a requisite for any just society, and this is one of the easiest ways to help meet that requisite.


1. Coherence Theory – In order for moral truths to be true, they must be in coherence with already established moral truths. We do not assume consent for other medical procedures. Surgeries are not performed without explicit written consent. Assuming consent for organ procurement would be a drastic departure from already established rules of consent, and therefore, a just society would never elect to assume consent for organ procurement.

2. Self-determination entails agency – Autonomy rests upon the idea that the person who the choice is affecting makes the decision. He/she must be the agent of action in making that decision. Assumed consent does not allow for that agency, and therefore, can never be a truly autonomous decision. A just society is predicated upon respecting the autonomy of its citizens and cannot assume consent for organ procurement.

3. Property Rights – Locke’s social contract outlines that one of the precise reasons we enter into a society is to have our property protected. That is one of the fundamental bases of a just society. Assuming consent directly violates that property protection. It’s like assuming consent to take someone’s estate once they’re deceased and redistribute the wealth.

Hopefully this will help you get started. Good luck!


15 responses to “Resolved: A just society ought to presume consent for organ procurement from the deceased.

  1. From the research I’ve done, “deceased” is a really controversially defined word, how did you come to the conclusion that the resolution unarguably refers to those who are both brain and cardiac dead?

    • Hi Claire,

      Thanks for the question. The resolution specifies that the person is deceased. If it had wanted us to debate organ procurement for those who aren’t deceased, then the specification would not have been made. Not only that, it doesn’t really matter if you include PVS individuals or not. The resolution is inclusive in that it includes all people you define as deceased. The resolution isn’t asking you to debate the definition of deceased.

      • The definition of a deceased person is a very valid point if Neg was running a morality argument (as implied by “ought” which is in fact very different from “should”). If a source states that a “vegetable” is technically dead, then I could easily make the argument that the surgeon procuring the organs is operating on an individual who has a functioning heart and lungs but cannot fight the presumed consent policy if desired.

      • Ought and should are synonymous. What is the difference between saying you ought to do something and you should do something? You can apply any reason to an “ought” obligation; it doesn’t have to be a moral reason.

        That being said, let’s suppose that you say a vegetable is dead, and then you respond that the person cannot fight the presumed consent policy if desired. Why does that matter? Why is that different from a person who does not have a functioning heart and lungs? The criteria we’re using to determine who is deceased is irrelevant. The question the resolution asks you to address is what to do with those deceased people. It is not logically consistent to say, “Some dead people should be presumed donors, and some shouldn’t, even though they’re all dead.” The principle established in the resolution will apply to all deceased people. Whether or not you decide to include PVS patients in that category is an entirely separate argument.

        Suppose the resolution asked if all condiments should be allowed to be put on a burger, and you start debating whether or not relish is a condiment. It’s a tangential argument which doesn’t address the question. Once you determine if relish is a condiment, it will fall into line with whatever you decide with your answer to the question.

    • I just think it gets easy to fall into the trap of a definition debate over something that isn’t even in question. The debater needs to have a proper understanding of impact and clash to avoid stuff like this. It’s actually kind of gross how prevalent it is in many debate circuits these days.

  2. Deseased: The cessation (sessation) of all vital functions of the body including the heartbeat, brain activity, and breathing.

    • Hi Mitchell,

      Thanks for the question. Yes, I can elaborate a little bit. Autonomy is our ability to freely make decisions and not be coerced into doing something we don’t want. Presumed consent is not coercion; you are still afforded the choice to opt out. It’s like when you have to request a kosher meal on an airplane. They assume everyone wants the regular meal, but if you want something different, you just have to ask.

      Sorry, but I don’t provide cards on here, just arguments 🙂

    • Hi,

      I get this question a lot. The answer is that I don’t get my definitions from anywhere. They are based upon an understanding of the word in the context of the resolution. You can find sources which support these definitions, but you have to remember that terms take on slightly different and more nuanced meanings in the context of a resolution than they would in a dictionary.

  3. Hey,

    I have a debate tomorrow well more like today its midnight and i cant figure out how to right my negative. Can anyone give me some advice?

    • Hey Ano,

      Sorry for the delayed response. I hope your debate went well. Please let me know if you’d like additional help with your cases.

  4. Hi, I have a question about your second argument.
    How does assumed consent not allow for autonomy, when one still has the decision to opt out?

    • Hi,

      Thanks for asking. As the argument explains, autonomy relies upon agency. When giving up things that otherwise belong to us, we must choose to do so in order for the decision to be truly autonomous. Absence of rejection is not the same as consent. For example, we don’t assume consent for people to have sex, and just because they don’t say “no” it doesn’t mean they’ve consented. Organ donation works the same way.

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