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Try it. If a business needed to downsize, what kind of process would likely be developed for deciding whom to lay off under this “veil of ignorance” system? How would life-saving prescription drugs be priced? Would slavery ever be acceptable?

A major challenge of deontological approaches is deciding which duty, obligation, right, or principle takes precedence because, as we said earlier, ethical dilemmas often pit these against each other. What does the deontologist do if one binding moral rule clashes with another? Can it be determined which is the more important right or principle? Because the U.S. Constitution is based on a rights approach, many U.S. public policy debates revolve around questions such as these. For example, the abortion debate rests on the question of whether the rights of the mother or the fetus should take precedence. In ethical dilemmas at work, loyalty to your boss or organization can easily clash with other strongly held values such as compassion or fairness. What if your boss tells you that you must lay off a subordinate, an excellent performer, because that subordinate was hired last and the principle guiding the layoff is “the last hired is the first fired.” But, imagine that this subordinate will lose his health insurance with the layoff and you know that his child is seriously ill. Another subordinate who has been with the company longer is also a good performer, but is single and has no family obligations.

Another difficulty of deontological approaches arises when they conflict with consequentialist reasoning. First, what happens when following a rule will have devastating consequences. For example, in World War II Germany, telling the truth to the Nazis about whether Jews were hiding in your attic would have had devastating consequences—they would have been taken and killed. In our case, what if Pat determines that telling her friend what she knows (in accordance with the principles of honesty and respect for her friend as a...
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