A leading voice on bioethical issues, distinguished professor and physician Dr. Steven H. Miles tackles tough issues, pursues truth and effects change. While his accomplishments have affected tens of thousands of lives, from his perspective, he's just done what any educated, moral person would do.
Miles work has taken him far from Minnetonka High School, yet its roots trace back to core skills that were honed there. English teachers Pam Bergland, who told him to read, and William Chisholm, who told him to write, sparked the inception of future pursuits. Their permission, given to a young, thoughtful boy, unleashed a passion for knowledge and truth and a means to share it with the world.
Bioethics is bringing common values into the conversation with medical science and practice. As a bioethicist, Miles is credited with eliminating restraints in nursing homes, establishing the do not resuscitate order, protecting end of life choices and exposing medical complicity in the torture of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay. He has also indexed more than 60,000 pages of government documents into a database accessible at the Human Rights Library at the University of Minnesota (www1.umn.edu/humanrts).
Miles is drawn to issues that most avoid or problems others would rather not deal with. "When I started documenting torture, a lot of people said a) ick and b) you can never make any headway on this. And I made a fair amount of headway," he said.
"Basically my job is to wade into that stuff and say, 'This is too important to ignore. I don't care if it makes you uncomfortable. These are people too and you've got to deal with it.' That's my career in a nutshell."
Miles has worked to improve medical practices within refugee camps as Medical Director for the American Refugee Committee for 25 years. This includes service as chief medical officer for 45,000 refugees on the Thai-Cambodian border plus projects in Sudan, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Indonesia and the Thai-Burmese border.
At the University of Minnesota, Miles serves as professor of medicine and bioethics, Maas Family Endowed Chair in Bioethics and affiliate faculty for the law school's concentration in Health Law and Bioethics. He has served as president of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities and received its Distinguished Service Award. In addition to these academic roles, Miles was a practicing internal medicine physician, seeing patients throughout his career until just a few months ago. Miles has also been known to challenge public figures and politicians on claims made, exposing pseudoscience when he can, because he can.
Many of Steven Miles' accomplishments were fueled by an unquenchable tenacity, meticulous research and skill with the written word. With four books, 20-plus chapters and more than 200 academic papers published, Miles knows the power of writing to bring about change. His first book, The Hippocratic Oath and the Ethics of Medicine, published by Oxford University Press in 2004, delves into the original meaning and context of the 2,400-year-old oath and illuminates its relevance in modern day medical practice and ethical contexts. His two subsequent books, Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror (2006) and Oath Betrayed: America's Torture Doctors (2009), examine the neglect, mistreatment and torture of prisoners and the role of healthcare workers within those facilities.
Of his many honors, one he is particularly proud of is the George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language, awarded to him by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
"I was flabbergasted by it first off," Miles said, but then he thought of the MHS English teachers who inspired him.
Being selected as a Minnetonka High School Distinguished Alumni is an honor Miles is not going to downplay. "It's really nice," he said. "Whether I had gotten an award or not," he adds, "I would've played the cards the same way because the cards were worth playing."
With another book in progress, scheduled to be published later this year, Miles continues to bring truth into the light. The world, in his perspective, is one where everyone should do their best, do what's right and go as far as one can go.