Tonight: Who wants to live forever?

Meeting Ena Brown Credit: Tonight

The clock ticks quietly as I sit in Georgina Brown’s kitchen in Hampshire – listening to her tale of a century. She’s a hundred and one and has lived in the same house all her life.

She remembers the day they first got electricity. She regrets the day her father sold her pony to buy the first car in the village. And she recalls the planes of World War One passing her bedroom window, and the day she spent munching cherries in the ditch outside her house.

“What do your doctors make of you?” I ask this twinkly, mischievous woman, who can remember every great tragedy and triumph of the last hundred years.

“Dunno!” She laughs, slapping her knee. “Never been to one! Heh heh!”

Meeting Ena Brown Credit: Tonight

So what’s her secret?

As more and more of us live beyond our three score years and ten – it’s a question which is pressing on the mind of scientists, philosophers - and the money men. The Secret of Eternal life is big business.

Because Ena is at the vanguard of a growing army on the march which is changing society. A British baby born today has a one in three chance of living to a hundred. There are ten million people alive in the UK who will make their century. And some scientists believe the first person to live to a thousand may already be among us.

Once you’ve got your head round that – you have to work out if this prospect is to be embraced or feared.

Dr Aubrey de Grey says it is likely the first person to live to 1,000 has already been born:

At University College London, they’ve manipulated the genes of a special species of worm to quadruple their life span. In Boston Massachusetts – they’ve turned back the genetic clock of mice to change them from enfeebled weak ageing creatures into sparky energetic ones, ready to get back on the running wheel. And GlaxoSmithKline has paid $730 million for a research company at Harvard Medical School which is well on the way to making a pill to combat old age and its diseases.

Mice in Boston are getting younger Credit: Tonight

But we should be careful of what we wish for – and it’s an issue which will come to weigh on all of us.

Already there are care homes full of elderly people their families cannot care for. Science may be able to cure their ills in the future, but how will society support an ever-ageing population? What impact will it have on family life to know that Granny might be with us for twice as long as her own mother? What does it mean for the jobs market? The NHS?

Worms at UCL Credit: Tonight

And ultimately - how will the prospect of putting off death affect our attitude to life, and how it should be lived?

Hear from those who’re already living at a hundred and loving it - and from those who want us all to share in their secrets on the Tonight Programme this evening.

‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ – Thursday, 7.30pm, ITV1.

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