The 10 Most Controversial Essay Topics of 2013

By Jennifer Frost · June 4, 2013

UPDATE: Check out our new infographic with awesome essay topics for 2014!

There is nothing like a controversial topic to get the blood flowing through your veins, and nothing like defending your corner of the moral landscape against the opinions of others who “just don’t get it!” Controversy lights up tired lecture halls, and treads provokingly through the pages of dissertations the world over. Controversy swings with the times, as one issue fades into the background to make way for something more relevant, only to reemerge upon the slip of a tactless politician’s tongue.

If you’re desperately seeking an essay subject matter that will propel you from class rogue to lecturer’s favorite, then consider drawing for one of the 10 most controversial essay topics of 2013.

10. Abortion


Are you pro-life or pro-choice, or somewhere in the middle? Does banning abortion infringe on women’s rights? Should abortion be banned except where cases of rape are concerned? Ever since the Roe vs. Wade court case this controversial subject matter has become a staple political and religious hot potato. Handle this controversy with extreme care – you will upset someone, guaranteed.

9. Capital Punishment


Forty countries (20% of the world) maintain the death penalty in both law and practice. These countries made up approximately 66% of the world’s population in 2012. (Wikipedia 2013).  But which is the correct pathway for humanity: an eye for an eye, or forgiveness regardless of the crime? What does the checklist look like for deciding whether a murder deserves the death penalty, and how can we ensure innocent people aren’t executed? This is a big essay with some life or death questions to explore!

8. Animal Testing


Should animals be used to make skin and hair products safer for humans? Why don’t we simply use natural products instead of chemical-laden products to avoid hurting animals? Should animals be considered lesser beings? Shouldn’t their vulnerability prompt us to treat them with love and protection at all times? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) firmly believe animals have every right to be treated as well as humans, and their raiding of labs and picketing on the steps of Congress in recent years has reinforced the presence of this controversial topic.

7. Genetic Cloning


At one time the cloning of a human being was the stuff of fiction movies; that was until 1996 when Dolly the sheep became the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell, using the process of nuclear transfer. Since then, further research has made genetic human cloning a very real prospect, prompting huge debate over whether man is going too far in trying to play God. What’s your take on interfering with Mother Nature?

6. Human Trafficking


The buying and selling of humans like a commodity is a lingering stain on the conscience of humanity. But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of human trafficking is that a significant percentage of trafficked peoples end up working in first world countries for extremely low wages in unacceptable working conditions. How can this be allowed to happen in the supposedly civilized world?

5. Ethnic Adoption


On the face of it, offering a better life to a child born into underprivileged circumstances is a wonderful act of human kindness. But what if the child is of a different ethic heritage to his or her adoptive parents? Will the inevitable acculturation negatively impact on the child’s development? Write the essay and let us know!

4. Plastic Surgery


A notable proportion of society has become grossly fixated on plastic surgery, with people attempting to buy back their youth, or to buy a similar face/body to that of their superstar idol. Surgeons are cashing in on people’s insecurities, using the knife as a magic wand for superficial happiness. With an increase in the number of deaths attributed to plastic surgery, and a massive rise in Botox addiction, unnecessarily altering ones appearance on the operating table is a contentious topic of moral debate.

3. The Pharmaceutical Industry (Pills)


Pills, pills, pills! It seems like there’s a pill for everything these days: Pills for headaches, pills for sleep, pills for sexual arousal, pills for slimming, pills for sickness, even pills to prevent further sickness in the event that you do get sick. But do we really need all these pills, and are these pills doing us more harm than good? The pharmaceutical industry has come under heavy fire in recent years for the marketing of pills without proper trials, and for promoting products to people who don’t really need them – Viagra being a prime example. But then can pharmaceutical companies be held responsible for what is essentially a personal choice? No one forces us to us to take pills. We are presented with solutions to ill health, and provided with a list of possible side effects if we decide to take up the doctor’s advice. Moreover, we are living longer, and arguably healthier, lives. So, is the pill friend or foe?

2. The Right to Die


Assisted death is a topic causing hot debate among religious leaders, governments and ordinary folk the world over. Since the Swiss group Dignitas – an organization that helps those with terminal illness and severe physical and mental illnesses to die assisted by qualified doctors and nurses – was founded by lawyer Ludwig A. Minelli in 1998, a number of terminally ill people people, particularly in the UK, have been inspired to fight the courts for their right to an assisted death. It seems perfectly reasonable that humans should be allowed to decide their own fate. The problem, however, is that often terminally ill people aren’t capable of ending their life in a painless, dignified manner, and therefore require the help of a family member of close friend. And so the debate ensues: should a person who assists the death of a loved one suffering a terminal illness be subjected to the same legal charges as a murderer? And how sick does a person need to be before they should be allowed an assisted death? Tricky, huh?

1. Immigration


With domestic security on constant high alert due to the fear of reprisal for wars in foreign lands, and far-right (anti-immigration) organizations forming all over the western world, immigration is without doubt the most controversial topic in debate today. As people free oppressive regimes, war zones and poverty to find a better life in a more developed, stable country, they are met by opposition from those who believe multiculturalism has its pitfalls for both host and guest, claiming that integration is problematic due to fundamental differences in morals and values. But is it not just poor government planning that prevents successful immigration? Aren’t all great nations built on the hard work of immigrant communities? You decide!

* A topic’s level of controversy is not necessarily reflected by its placement within the list. The numbers just make it that little bit more interesting!