A PARTIALLY blind woman is attempting to make legal history by demanding compensation for giving birth to a healthy baby after she was sterilised.

Karina Rees, 29, from Darlington, is fighting to overcome the historic legal precedent that healthy children are always "a blessing" and parents cannot be compensated for the costs of bringing them up - even if the birth resulted from medical negligence.

Pro-life campaigners said they were alarmed at the consequences if the action was successful and a precedent was set.

Miss Rees, who was born with genetic disorder Retinitis Pigmentosa, is blind in her left eye and has only one sixth of normal vision in her right.

The Court of Appeal in London heard yesterday how she wanted to be sterilised precisely because her visual handicap made her doubt her ability to cope with a baby.

The sterilisation operation was carried out at Darlington Memorial Hospital in July 1995, but one of her fallopian tubes was not fully tied and, in October the following year, she discovered she was pregnant.

She gave birth to her son, Anthony, in 1997 and has since cared for him with the help of her family and social workers. Anthony's father has played no part in his up-bringing.

Miss Rees' counsel, Mr Robin de Wilde, said he had "trawled the common law world" for a similar case involving a claim for compensation, without success.

He said she had great difficulty in doing many everyday things for her son.

When she dresses him, she often puts on his clothes inside out and his shoes on the wrong feet.

Darlington Memorial Hospital NHS Trust admits the sterilisation was "negligently performed" but disputes the amount of compensation due to Miss Rees, whose address was given in court as St Paul's Place, Darlington.

The trust declined to comment last night.

But a spokeswoman for pro-life pregnancy care charity Life said it would be "morally wrong" to seek money for having a healthy child.

Rachel Heath, of Life, said: "No price can be put on a child. Children should be cherished unconditionally.

"This could set a very dangerous precedent amounting to people being paid for having a healthy baby."

In May this year, Judge Stuart Brown, sitting at Newcastle, decided "reluctantly" that he was bound by higher judicial authority to refuse to award Miss Rees a penny to cover the cost of bringing up her son to his 18th birthday.

In some recent cases damages have been awarded for the "wrongful birth" of handicapped children, but only enough to cover the extra costs of caring for them associated with their disabilities.

The House of Lords also recently stuck by the "public policy" principle that healthy children are a blessing and their parents cannot be compensated, even if their birth is "wrongful".

Judge Brown's decision meant that Miss Rees's damages would be limited to a modest sum to compensate her for her "pain and suffering" and any financial losses resulting from her unplanned pregnancy.

Challenging the ruling, Mr de Wilde argued that, due to her visual handicap, Miss Rees faced many extra child care costs and was in a different position to other parents.

Referring to the case as of "real public importance", Mr de Wilde urged the judges to extend the exception to the "blessing" principle in cases involving handicapped children to handicapped parents as well.

After a day of legal argument, the court reserved its judgement until the New Year.

Last night, when The Northern Echo called at the address given in court, a man claimed Miss Rees had moved