I come from a line of polluters. If you want to take the long view, it’s an apparent species trait. Sapiens have been overpopulating, pooping on, and plundering the Earth for millennia. In more present times, Grandpa Bellegia worked for Hooker Chemical Company, best known for creating the toxic brew in the Love Canal near Niagara Falls, NY. Dad was employed by American Viscose Corporation. We moved from place to place in the Mid-Atlantic States when I was growing up, always near rivers so that the effluent of the rayon and synthetic fiber production process could be discharged cheaply. Several locations are now Superfund sites. My dad did penance in retirement by working for the EPA.

I didn’t escape the family pattern. The pharmaceutical industry, one in which I spent four decades, is the source of toxic waste from medicines that are excreted, flushed down the toilet, or end up in landfills. Ironically, the oral contraceptives that I marketed, believing I was helping to put the brake on overpopulation, are among those that produce the contaminants of most concern. Hormones and other drugs are designed to work at very low doses and are not removed by conventional wastewater treatment plants. These chemicals affect all biological systems—human, as well as the life forms on which we depend. The impact is unknown.

As worrisome as this is, I have become more concerned about how the pharmaceutical industry has “polluted” our views of mortality. We are bombarded with industry-initiated messages about new miracle drugs that give us false hope that we can delay death, perhaps indefinitely. Actually, we are being kept alive longer, but with chronic illness. The longer we live and the sicker we are, the more drugs we will have to consume. It seems we will pay anything and endure anything that will postpone death.

Touched by Fatality emerged in part as atonement for the frothy fiction of medicine as “saving” lives that I helped to perpetuate. Plot spoiler: immortality is a myth—at least for individual humans and at least for now. Even our species, too, will become extinct or evolve beyond recognition at some point in the future. We might bear in mind that if we continue to overpopulate and pollute, we will hasten this ending.