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Are emotional support animals prosthetics or pets? Body-like rights to emotional support animals
  1. Sara Kolmes
  1. Philosophy, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA
  1. Correspondence to Sara Kolmes, Philosophy, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20007, USA; sk1719{at}


Many philosophers have argued that prosthetic limbs are the subjects of some of the same rights as traditional body parts. This is a strong argument in favour of respecting the rights of users of prosthetics. I argue that all of the reasons to consider paradigm prosthetics the subjects of body-like rights apply to the relationship between some emotional support animals (ESAs) and their handlers. ESAs are integrated into the functioning of their handlers in ways that parallel the ways that paradigm prosthetics are integrated into the functioning of their users. ESAs are also phenomenologically integrated into their handler’s lives in ways that parallel the phenomenological integration that prosthetic users experience. These parallels provide a strong reason to take the rights of ESA handlers much more seriously than we do now. I will highlight that the current treatment of ESA handlers presumes that they have no rights to ESAs at all. Even if ESAs are the subject of very minimal body-like rights, ESA handlers are having their rights violated. There are of course disanalogies between ESAs and paradigm prosthetics. Most notably, ESAs are alive and separate from their handlers. However, none of these disanalogies are relevant to the question of body-like rights. The differences between ESAs and paradigm prosthetics are in terms of what treatment is owed to them, not in terms of what rights their handlers and users should have. ESAs are not prosthetics, but they deserve some of the rights prosthetics do.

  • ethics
  • philosophical ethics
  • rights

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  • Contributors SK is responsible for all aspects of this paper—she came up with the concept, drafted, edited and is accountable for all aspects of this paper. No one else fulfils the criteria for being an author of this paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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